March 07 Newsletter » Pottery-Practice/Practice-Pottery:
A Conversation With Potter Julie Myoko Terestman


In each pot, I try to capture a moment, or a sense of somewhere I've been or imagined; something I've seen or felt, or somewhere I'd like to go. While the journey may at first seem to be in the past, looking for something remembered or familiar, it inevitably leads somewhere new. This subtle gap between the familiar and the unknown is a mysterious place. It is in this space that a pot can give pause to moments of contemplation, moments that usually quickly and quietly slip by unnoticed.
With attention, these moments can reveal the beauty and possibility in our ordinary life.
            —Julie Myoko Terestman

One recent winter afternoon, I went to visit the Jersey City studio of potter Julie Myoko Terestman, a Village Zendo sangha member and senior student . We sat in a cozy corner of the airy, high-ceilinged room having tea and talking about the interconnection between her Zen practice and her art. Shelves of Julie's work presided over the conversation, and her dog, Bingo, lay on his cushiony bed, giving an occasional approving thump of his tail.

Below are some of the thoughts that occurred to Julie as we spoke.


It's interesting that maturing in a creative art seems very akin to maturing in your zen practice. Of course that could apply to everything one does, because practice and life are not separate. I'm talking about making pots, because that's what I do and like to do, but if I had a different job, whatever work I did would grow in the same relation to my practice.


I think my practice has helped me to trust myself and my work process more. I used to stop myself in the middle of working on a pot to discriminate, to question my ideas. Now, I am more and more able to see what happens – to just go where I need to go. I used to work with a much more "judgmental attitude," but of course, that doesn't mean throwing out critical observation. That's the funny thing, everything has its value, but not everything is equally effective.

It's like in sitting -- there's a quality of just trusting, of just allowing and seeing what comes up and observing without further process. In my work, discrimination now comes up differently than it used to do, when it was, "this is bad," but instead it's simply an observation. Like when we're sitting it's: let go, observe, let go, observe -- again and again.


Pottery demands a huge amount of discipline, commitment and self-structure. The same qualities are needed in zen practice. For me, each practice has influenced and influences the other. In zen practice, what in the beginning seems like "discipline" and "commitment," after a while falls away to become "just what you do." It's the same with pottery.

Tradition — Form and Freedom

Working within a seemingly small frame, like making pots, has allowed me to connect to the freedom within the form of zen practice. And vice-versa.

Finding freedom within form is not unique to working with pottery: it's much like finding the universe in the petal of a flower. There are certain ways you need to do things, certain materials to use, but it's always you who are free in how you use them. You could say the same for any job or work.

Working within given boundaries or forms and relating to tradition is how many potters work. I look at and play with the various traditions in the history of ceramics, but what I do could only exist now in these times. Authentically working within the boundaries of a given form and tradition means extending that tradition in a fresh way.

What we do in our zen practice has such a strong tradition. The question arises, as in pottery, how do we use tradition and form without being killed by them, while also keeping them relevant.

Identity and Relationship

I feel like my Zen practice has lessened the importance or narrowness of my "identity." I used to be tied up with my image of myself as a "potter." That was me. I no longer feel that it's "me," but that it is "one of me."

In our sangha, dynamics with the teacher and each other are relational. When you're off in your own mind, you can create whatever you want and get stuck there. But interfacing with others, with the rest of the world, your ideas become less solid. For example, I can have an idea that I'm a very open person, but then, through relationship with others serving on a sangha committee, I discover that this idea is not really all that true. Relationship wears on things that we take for granted, or believe to be solid.

Pottery too, is all about relationship. When you are working with pots its all about proportion and internal relationship. Take a cup. You can shift one small subtle detail -- color, foot, lip -- and everything changes. It's not at all the same cup. Very mysterious. The joy and the fun is playing with and exploring these relationships.

And we too, are constantly playing with relationship: how are you at this moment? What are you doing? With whom or with what?

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