by Phil Dwyer | Middle & High School Teacher
straight and tall / swift and true
I shoot my arrow
into the center
One week every year the high school suspends its classes for Experiential Interdisciplinary (EI) Week. It reconfigures itself during this week into several groups composed of students from all grade levels and teachers from different disciplines. During this special Experiential Interdisciplinary week of doing, each group undertakes unique activities based on their particular group’s theme. All the groups’ themes carry the spirit of our overall theme established and introduced by the seniors at our retreat beginning each year. This year’s high school theme is “Risk! Learn, Grow, Change.”
This year’s EI Week will help start the second half of our school year after the winter break. THe five EI Week groups have already started coming together and planning. Each group will embrace this year’s ideals in their own unique way throughout EI Week.
The Centering group will be…well, centering! We will be undertaking a few of humanity’s paradoxically understated, yet inordinately daunting activities: throwing clay on potter’s wheels, aiming without aiming in natural (instinctive) archery, and balance beam and line work. With our hands and bodies we’ll be striving to create form. Form that reaches deeply into us as we reach out to touch, squeeze, shape, pull, push, and shoot our way toward stillness and uprightness.
Perhaps renown potter, poet, and educator, M.C. Richards said it best in a colloquium on “The Human Spirit.”
The image of centering is inherent in the relationship between the potter and the clay. You take a ball of clay, put it on the potter’s wheel, and bring it into a condition of equilibrium. The quality of equilibrium has to exist throughout the mass of clay; it can’t just be an even silhouette on the outside giving an appearance of symmetry. It has to be distributed right through the body of the clay so that there’s no difference between the inside and the outside. When you open the clay, widen the bottom, and bring up the side of the cylinder or the bowl, you’re touching the inside and the outside at the same time with that wall and there is the same consistency, the same even grain, the same plasticity, the same moisture inside and out. What you discover is that as the pot rotates on the wheel, you can touch it at just one point, at any point, and the whole thing changes form. You touch it a little bit one way and the rim goes out, all the way around. You barely touch it in one spot and you give shape to the whole thing. The whole is felt in every part. Wherever you touch it, the whole thing passes through your fingers. Wherever you touch it, you’re giving shape. If we think about that in relation to our lives, in relation to the human spirit, the planet, and the universe, we realize that we effect change wherever we touch life, physically or by thinking or by something that we feel, something that we do, something that we don’t do. Wherever we touch life we form it. It’s an old teaching that man is a microcosm of the universe. If you really feel and internalize that knowledge, it is quite a thing to be a human being, to touch with the hands but also with a thought, a feeling, or a dream.
The Centering group is on the lookout for archery equipment and pottery wheels. Do you have, or know anyone who has, any archery equipment or a pottery wheel(s) we could borrow for the week? y received, please send me an email.
Richards, MC. “ESSAYS, MEMOIRS, & TRUE STORIES Centering.”1983 Oct., The Sun. thesunmagazine.org/issues/95/centering. Accessed 21 November 2023.