How Meditation Helped Me Break A Guinness World Record

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win a copy of “The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday and World Record Pot #28 ($194 value) absolutely free. Back in February, 2015, I read “The Obstacle Is The Way” just before setting the new pottery Guinness World Record, which you can watch in this Facebook video. This story tells how I trained my body and mind to achieve this epic feat.

“That looks so calming and relaxing…absolutely peaceful to watch… so soothing…”

Thousands of people watch my Facebook throwing demos and typically say things like this. I really appreciate the sentiment. Unfortunately, they can’t feel how pottery making is actually really tough. Ridiculously tough.

Yes it’s hard because it requires a lot of skill, but it’s also hard on your body. Hands, arms, back and leg muscles are tight. Slouching posture feels natural, but must be corrected to avoid back injuries. Intense concentration keeps pots flowing off the kickwheel, but the slightest error ruins the entire pot. Even when I get into a meditative rhythm after 10-20 pots, my mind instantly begins wandering, requiring even more intense concentration.

All of those stresses were amplified during the world record attempt.

For one full year, I practiced by creating over 1,000 of the required “planters” slowly and methodically (on top of another 3,500+ pots that I needed to create and sell to make a living). Three weeks before the record attempt, I trained like I was going to run a marathon. Training began the day after I returned from Japan.

Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji were incredibly inspiring. Happily back to work in my pottery studio in Minnesota, I began training for the world record. The previous gentleman from the UK beat it on an electric wheel, but I planned to use my traditional, Japanese kickwheel. With no motor, you can’t just crank the engine and move your hands. It requires your full body.

“Awesome!” I thought. “It will look so cool breaking the record with a kickwheel. Let’s do this!”

I prepared 100 pounds of clay, sat down at the wheel and immediately, painfully threw my back out.

Handstands at Mount Fuji might have boosted my ego just a bit. Fortunately, the lower back tweak was minor. I recovered in two days and returned to training more carefully. 350+ pounds of clay were required for the record attempt. No more screwing around.

21 days after returning from Japan, I set a new Guinness World Records™ record for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual. Here was my daily regime during that three week training period:

  • No alcohol
  • 10 minutes daily mediation using the free Headspace App
  • 2 hour workouts: 1-2 miles running before full body exercises guided by the free Freeletics App
  • 1 hour stretching: 15 minutes before workouts, 45 minutes after
  • 3-4 hours pottery practice

The mental strain was stifling:

  • “What if I throw my back out again?”
  • “What if I fail in front of 8 volunteers, photographers, reporters, kids, friends who drove 60 miles?”
  • “What if I miss a requirement and GWR rejects us?”
  • “How do I get 350 pounds of clay measured into 2 pound balls and moved 6 miles, up 3 flights of stairs. What if THAT throws my back out?”
  • “Not drinking sucks. I want a beer.”

Three things helped me conquer my mental demons:

  1. Meditation
  2. The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium, Jupiter and Mars

During his TED Talk video, Andy Puddicombe’s juggling and public speaking skills make the benefits of meditation self evident.

The Obstacle Is The Way was a “quake book” for me. Streaming it on Audible three times in three weeks helped me optimistically explore every possible way to conquer the record.

150 pots in one hour was the record to beat. One day before the attempt, I set up a stopwatch and threw 48 pots in 19 minutes. Do the math and you get one pot every 23.75 seconds. Beating the record required one pot every 24 seconds. I was barely scraping by and had to triple the throwing time.  Those margins were too close for comfort.

“When America first sent astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than any other: the art of not panicking.”

– Ryan Holiday

When I sat down to attempt the record, I had no idea whether or not I could beat it. Eight volunteers needed directions, 30 people were patiently staring at me and the 375 pounds of clay was sitting next to me, beginning to dry.

A stroke of good fortune hit. Someone randomly put on my all time favorite album: “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasted through the loud speakers.

The clock started. I wasn’t worried. I got into a rhythm and the flow started. For the next hour, the benefits of meditation were obvious. It was easy to ignore the huge influx of distracting sounds, questions, gaze of the crowd and bullshit doubts in my own mind. I found myself singing along to the Chili Peppers tunes. The rest is history.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

– Archilochos, quoted by Tim Ferriss

P.s. Ryan Holiday is also featured in “Tools of Titans page 334, which we’re giving away in our Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017). More than 80% of the nearly 200 people featured in Tools of Titans cite meditation or some form of mindfulness as a daily practice. Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway and you could win one of 5 Random Cosmic Mugs paired with one of 5 copies of “Tools of Titans” totally free.


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  2. I recently discovered your talents and, in a way, have rediscovered my own just by watching the process again. I grew up working with clay. One of my earliest memories is sticking my hands into the slip of a freshly cast mold. Its in my blood. I’ve always longed to get my hands on a wheel but money and an injury to my right hand makes it impossible to throw on a standard clockwise wheel. I throw “goofy” 🙂 Watching your videos has made me realize that I have an unutilized gift. I NEED to work clay again and have 100 pounds of it stashed away and calling my name. I’ve heard about great pottery coming from the university in MN (I live in ND) and I believe this has been presented to me in perfect timing. The universe works in mysterious ways… Thank you.

  3. Pingback: The Art of Throwing Pottery on a Kick Wheel | Joel Cherrico Pottery

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