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One of my favorite potters in the Guaitil region is Miguel Leal, who runs a pottery shop called Taller El Espiritu del Barro Chorotega, or The Spirit of the Burros of Chorotega.

Miguel told me that the traditional pottery methods of the Chorotega indigenous people must come from the soul, and so pottery has become the heart of the town.

He said that pottery is not something someone can craft in a few minutes; it must come from deep inside and from traditions of long ago. This made me think of how it doesn’t compare to my experience as a pharmacist preparing compounds; rather, it’s like working alongside my father in his bakery making breads and cookies using recipes from my grandfather. How this came from their soul is all lost now. No more bread or cookies unless I pick up the tradition and continue it or write down the story.

Let’s start with how Miguel forms his clay from local ingredients: clay from a specific riverbed, fine sand that they call iguana sand because iguanas often lay their eggs in it, water and pixie dust. 

Miguel does not use a potter’s wheel, but a wheel made from parts of a ceiling fan. He flattens the clay on the wheel, and as he spins the wheel, he adds water until he can form the sides. After years of practice, he knows exactly how much water to make the clay pliable, but rigid enough to hold up, as it is formed. 

He uses the sole of a shoe to help smooth the clay. As I watched him, I thought, was he trying to help me mold SoulGives? He said he must make sure that the clay stays centered on the wheel, otherwise it becomes distorted and falls apart. I wondered, am I centered on life or distracted with other concerns about the holidays?

Digging deep

The next step is when Miguel digs down deep into the pottery to form the soul of it. He reaches in and pulls out all the leftover clay that isn’t needed. He applies pressure with his hands in just the right spots — just like I need to have things removed, like pride, arrogance, and fear. 

The pot is half done now, and it is usable. You could stop or continue with more work and make it into something really amazing. It is all up to you.

Miguel uses simple tools like a corn cob and wood pieces to etch the clay slowly and steadily. Yep, good pottery takes time to make a one-of-a-kind creation.

He also seemed to know exactly what size pot he was going to make. Likewise, we have to trust that there is a plan for us. He said that if I tried to make the clay into something where there wasn’t enough clay, it would form into something too thin and break. 

We must be careful that we do not stretch beyond our means. I must stay with what I am called to do, not add more and more.

He reminded me that he always kept his eye on the pot when he was forming it, to show love and attention to the task.

At the end, Miguel took a knife and cut around the top of the pot to smooth the edge. This reminded me not to cut out my priorities but trim them to become manageable.

Now we have a beautiful pot, a unique piece that has been skillfully molded.

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The Howler Magazine