What is a metaphysical pot?
Years ago in India my husband bought a piece of handloom cloth with a decorative motif showing the gods sitting together, while one of them, apparently a potter, creates humans from clay as little pots on a wheel. On another trip I witnessed a Hindu cremation in India. Just before the pyre was lit, a large terra cotta jug filled with water was carried to the site. Then a small hole was knocked in the bottom of the jug, letting the water flow out as the jug was carried around the deceased, circumambulating the pyre, symbolizing the process of the soul leaving the body. These connections between clay and the pot form and notions of creation and transcendence are ancient. In Sumeria and Mohenjodaro, these motifs connecting clay with creation are common, and of course in the Old Testament, in Genesis, it says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” (Genesis 2:7) The Sufi poet, Hafiz, connects both the themes of creation and transcendence when he writes:
Last night I saw the angels knocking at the tavern door;
they kneaded Adam’s clay with wine, and cast it as a cup.
The dwellers in veiled holiness, the purest archangels,
proceeded to serve vagrant me intoxicating wine.”
– Hafiz (Ghani-Qazvini, no. 184, trans. C.W.Ernst)
In other words, the angels combine the wine of the soul’s divine intoxication with Adam’s clay, or creation. It is the combination of these two elements—the soul and its divine longing, and the vehicle of the body — that propels the soul toward transcendence. Then, continuing the verse, the angels form the clay and wine into a cup in which they serve wine to a drunken and vagrant Hafiz.
Another similar idea is found in a divine saying (hadith qudsi) of the Prophet Muhammad:
“God said, ‘I kneaded the clay of Adam for 40 days”.
Traditionally, 40 days is important because it is the time needed to accomplish perfection of consciousness using certain meditative rituals.
Using the form of the pot to focus on the dual themes of the Water of Life, or the source of creation, running out and into the Infinite Ocean, or the goal of mystical transcendence, I like to think that I’m continuing this ancient symbology. The water is at once both inside of the pot as well as outside, showing the continuous journey from creation to transcendence. In my “A Well of Living Waters”, I extend the image to include the notion of fertility and the feminine as it connects with creation. The title comes from a line in the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) in the Old Testament (Song of Songs 4: 15). The piece titled In the Reed Bed 2 (see Highlighted Pieces) adds the element of longing, referring to Rumi’s image of the reed lamenting its abrupt removal from the reed bed, symbolizing the primordial longing of the soul to be united with our origins, at one with the Creator. A number of different translations of this poem by Rumi can be found at dar-al-masnavi.org. “In the Reed Bed 2” was started in December of 2007 (finished in late February of 2008) as a commemorative piece marking the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth.
Shouldn’t every household have a metaphysical pot to provide those living there an orienting spiritual perspective?
The “Rent Asunder” Series
All of the pieces in this series of three are titled “Rent Asunder/The Sacred Heart”, with the subtitles, “Veils of the Flesh”, “Veils of Sight”, and “Veils of the Mind.” This is a further iteration of my three-dimensional “metaphysical” metaphor based on the vessel form. These pieces are based on the historical fact that there have been notable people — saints, mendicants, sufis, and others on the margins — who do not proceed toward transcendence in a way that can be symbolized by flowing water. Instead, through the force of their love and personal commitment, they rend their way into the center, forcing an existential meeting with the Creator. “Veils of the Flesh” brings to mind figures such as St. Francis of Assisi, Hallaj, and Shams-e Tabrizi, fakirs, deniers of the flesh, who through their austerities gained access to the inner life. In conceptualizing “Veils of Sight” I had in mind someone like the artist Vincent Van Gogh. His later work, even though he more or less painted what he saw, has such surface tension that it always seemed to me as if the picture plane were about to rend apart, revealing a portal to an ineffable beyond. “Veils of the Mind” conjures up mystics like Ruzbihan Baqli, who refers in his diary to “the bridal veils of intimacy.” When reading about Ruzbihan and others like Ramakrishna, one gets a sense of peeling away layers upon layers of mental veils in preparation for union with the Divine. The second half of the title, “The Sacred Heart” refers to the popular paintings of Christ pulling apart his clothing to reveal his heart, a visual metaphor of the divine love and purity at his core.