According to the Oxford Dictionary:
ritual (rit – u – al) noun: a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone
Growing up I never could fully appreciate the value of rituals and routine. For example, my mum would always get up an hour before anyone else, have her smoke, do her hair, drink her coffee, put the radio on, contemplate her navel, and let her brain thaw, before waking the rest of us up and facing the world. If someone interrupted that time, boy, it would throw her off for the day…or at least her morning. I was able to accept and work around this ‘state of being’ in the morning, but I didn’t quite understand the why behind it, how such a routine could be so ingrained. A lot of this seemingly impenetrable ritualistic adult behaviour, that not only my mother was guilty of, but many others, I merely chalked up to these individuals being inexplicably fixed in their ways. I remember thinking “I don’t ever want to be like that”. Boring (isn’t that just a typical kid response?) .
As I get older, however, I do recognize and acknowledge that rituals and routine to some extent, can be a healthy thing and actually help us function and relate better to the world around us. I see it most noticeably with my kids. Regular bedtime, regular dinner time, regular school hours and the framework that goes along with it.. I think it actually helps them thrive. They know when things are supposed to happen, what to expect and what is expected of them. They don’t have to think about it. And, I hate to admit it, but with them in a routine, its a lot easier on me as well. With certain things predictable and stable, it leaves more energy to learn, be creative, and grow.
I was in the studio yesterday, scraping off bats, and getting ready for a new throwing session. I came to the realization that I am probably more fixed into my routine than I like to admit. With kids and the many other less than constructive distractions in my life, I have been forced to work ‘smarter’. Having worked in the studio for a number of years now, I have unknowingly developed a working pattern. I use specific tools every time, I have a clear vision of what needs to be done/made, and I have a pretty good idea what would annoys and/or distract me as I try to work (like remnant clay shavings forgotten and left to get stuck on my throwing tools ..or having no place to put pots after I throw them, especially when ware racks have been cluttered up with general ‘stuff’ that should be stored or displayed elsewhere.. That makes me mental), so I like things I need close at hand and ready to use, without me having to stop and disrupt my concentration and throwing rhythm.
Anyhow.. as I sat there, I realized I go through the exact same process, in the same order, practically every time I get ready for a new throwing cycle: clear area of scrap clay, take reclaim out to the clay mixing area, scrape off bats/tiles, if switching from native clay to porcelain clean the tools/wheel area/bats, sweep around my wheel/where i have to walk, lay out tools, make sure I have clay towel, clear tables/shelves, wedge clay and weigh it out into balls then cover them, change throwing water (if its cold outside, use hot water so hands don’t ache), go inside to get a drink/make pitstop/psyche up/stretch, back to studio, put tunes on, sit down, and, finally, commence. Its not a compulsion, its just something I do.
Going through this ritual, helps me be more centered and focused on throwing. It didn’t used to be this way. In my old studio, while it was pretty clean, I didn’t have a groove and working didn’t have a nice flow to it. As a relative novice, I was still trying to work things out and feel comfortable in my space, and with my throwing. There was no continuity, no routine, and lots of distraction, and unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t see it.
These rituals and routines are a necessary thing in order to be more productive. Repetition of tasks, like scraping bats and wedging clay, over time become second nature and almost mindless, allowing more mental energy and focus to be spent on things like throwing, working out shape and design, etc., so by the time you reach the wheel, you’re mentally prepared.