Saturday, September 6, 2014

every once in awhile, I am reminded...

Every once in awhile I am reminded of this blog, and  in turning my attention back to it, I remember that it has been some time since I posted last. It has been one year, that I have let this blog lie dormant. It is not that I've lost interest in Zen but that I've felt no need to think of it as being something apart from real life..

A short time after I wrote last in this blog, my sister Ann passed away.  Now it has been one year. And what can I say? She has been missed.

When it comes to Zen, what can be said? The Zen that is spoken is not the true Zen. We can talk around it, address it as an impersonal, disconnected philosophy, but what's that chopping sound? Do you hear lumber being sawn? Or nails being driven deep into the heart of wood? Those are the sounds that convey Zen. What is the significance of making useful beauty, if not for the sake of Zen? And what's Zen if not that creative, skilled act?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

awaiting word on Ann...

I am awaiting word of my sister's passing. She is in hospice care and down to her last hours or perhaps days. She has always been my big sister, even after I grew much taller in height. She was always the creative one, the artistic one. While I majored in Political Science, she majored in art. When we were little, she colored on my paper. There was no meanness in it. She knew that my paper needed her help. There were only 18 months between us and I've really not known the world without her being in it.

 On the other hand, at the age of 7, I took apart her sewing machine and it never worked again. That taught me valuable lessons that I've never forgotten. Pay attention to the details. Know the whole of a thing and understand how it works or how it is supposed to work before you commence in taking it apart. Each and every thing has meaning. Take care with the whole of it. It matters.

I am reminded of a Zen story. The master was dying. His disciples were gathered around him, crying, "Master, master, please don't leave us." He looked up and asked, "Where do you think I'd go?" And the truth of us is that our individuality is self-deception. We are intimately entwined in each other. There are no boundaries between us except those that our delusions have created. Skin? Thoughts? Are there any real boundaries that defines us if we choose to live within a broader view of our humanity?

My wife tells me to avoid power tools for the rest of the day. That's good advice when under some level of stress. The worst part of my sister's disease was that it impaired her creative capacity. For the rest of you,  please:

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

stillness...


I have been researching unexplained data transmissions over my internet  connection that add up to extreme data usage. What I've learned is that in these modern computer operating systems, there's more internal chatter than what would be in the head of the most obsessive-compulsive paranoid schizophrenic that ever walked the earth. My first thought was that some data mining deviant force was robbing my bandwidth.

If you are on a mac, you can watch the ins and outs of data transmission by going to the utilities folder under applications and opening the activity monitor.  Click on the "network" tab and you can watch the bytes and kilobytes of data steaming out to the web and back, even when you are doing absolutely nothing. Turn off your network connection and watch what happens to the activity. The purpose of the network activity seems to be to coordinate devices and to feed advertisements and updates to us on a regular basis. Some computers are brought to a near halt by shear overload from all the ins and outs of small meaningless packets of data. On my desktop Mac, I learned that the traffic is severe, eating up more bandwidth than anyone would have imagined.

Perhaps computers and we folk are truly alike. Perhaps just as the computer can benefit by becoming unwired for a time, we can too. If all our processing power is consumed by trivialities, what's left for rational processing in our own lives? I am an advocate of mindfulness, not that the mind should be full (or emptied) but that being watchful of what we put in our minds, watchful of what goes on in our minds, we learn to derive benefit from stillness, quiet and equanimity.

Years ago, I stood on the banks of the Mississippi River at Memphis. The river was so full and wide, and while at home at night you can be disturbed by the dripping of a faucet, the river was so full and silent that I could hear the calls of fishermen nearly a mile on the other side. The amount of water flowing by in each given second was far in excess of that faucet drip of such huge aggravation, and so we come to the heart of Zen. The object of mindfulness is not to become empty of mind, but that the mind be full of consequence and meaning, that it not be dominated by trivialities but by meaningful connections.

When we do a thing by hand for the first time, our brains are filled with intense processing. What is the proper grip to use on the chisel? How do I direct it's point? How hard do I strike with the mallet? And then what? And these are questions that are answered in practice and experience.

Researchers did MRI experiments with pianists, beginning and advanced. A paper keyboard was used so that the subjects could be observed as they applied sequences of notes just as they would on a real piano. The researchers watched the brain activity, just as I can use the activity monitor on my mac. They learned that expert pianists used far less processing power than beginners to perform the same series of notes. The advanced pianists were far less encumbered by inefficiencies in the hand/brain system conundrum.

Interestingly, all this applies to creative woodworking. We do make choices as to what we use to fill our minds and how we squander our processing power. We do make choices about how much to rely on our connections and how much to go on our own, cut loose from the grid that may stifle our individual creative expression. What happens in the hand is not mindless. What happens in the mind is best when it is connected by hand to reality. When hand and mind are refined in perfect partnership, it is like standing in silent awe at the side of a great river.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Living with monkey mind...

Living with monkey mind...
Today at the Unitarian Church here in Eureka Springs, we had a visit from 5 Tibetan monks traveling with the Dalai Lama. They chanted during our traditional Mother's Day Service, so between regular members and guests who had come just for the monks, the church was crowded. In a question and answer session in which attendees were able to ask one of the monks questions, he mentioned what has been called "monkey mind," the incessant interior mental chatter that most often revolves around the painful injuries we may feel we have sustained, or the hopes we may have of changing circumstances to elevate our own position in things, in life, and within our communities.... A great deal of monkey mind is plotting and scheming and taking us out of the moment.

A quick question of my readers... "Is the status of monkey mind alleviated or made worse by our technologies?" I suspect the answer is obvious. If students, and we ourselves cannot observe at least a few moments of silence, how can we learn things that are most truly meaningful?

This afternoon, I'm exercising my monkey mind by doing sketchup drawings for boxes to illustrate a Fine Woodworking Magazine article on the safe machining of small parts.

I am also working toward transcendence. Being in the woodshop with real wood is much easier and more fun.

Join me this day as I fall silent in my own quiet symphony of hands.
Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

awakening to clarity

I don't know whether others have the same forms of awakening from dreams experiences as I. Being one who works at least part time in the concrete rather than abstract, being involved in shaping real physical forms from wood there are nights from which I awaken to a clarity about how some particular thing I am intending to do is to be done. This morning's epiphany is an extremely simple technique I demonstrate in the photos above and below... a technique to taper the edge of a board through an extremely simple and precise method. I had been thinking of more complex techniques occasionally for days and now having had my awakening, my epiphany, I get to demonstrate simplicity so that others can see, (and do) as well. The boards will be glued back together as shown but because of the taper in towards the center, as they are tapered upward on the outside edges, the thickness of the edge will gradually diminish toward the top... a subtle visual effect, but one that I believe will be worth the small amount of effort at the start.

Many of my artist friends tell me that they think in images rather than in words. How about you? For many non artists, the rush of dream images in the night may be their clearest engagement in non-discursive reality. They may awakened fearful of what they find.

Can you see how becoming a society of makers again might bring full intelligence to greater life? To become a maker is to awaken from a dream to full capacity. Lao Tzu wondered whether he dreamed he was a butterfly or was a butterfly dreaming his human form. Here I am at the edge of things... attempting to suggest greater meaning from dreaming and from making. And if I tell you that making is an essential human trait, that the integration of consciousness is dependent upon it, can you understand what I am dreaming/talking about? A picture is worth a thousand word, but words have a tendency to lock us in position and lock our intelligence within bounds. Break free. Make! Create! Use your hands to engage your full human intellectual capacity.

Mario, in a comment to this post mentions Jorge Luis Borge, Argentinian poet and writer. From Wikipedia:
Scholars have suggested that Borges's progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination. Borges commented "poets, like the blind, can see in the dark". Borges wrote: "When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who knows themselves better than the blind?' - for every thought becomes a tool."
Thank you Mario for the introduction.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are you here now?

You can think and speculate til the cows come home, but everything you actually do can be the source of wisdom. Sometimes the wisdom is hard earned and downright painful, and sometimes you can go through the painful lessons without actually learning anything. It all boils down to attention. "Are you here now?" And to what do you pay attention?

I just came in from mowing the grass and was using the exercise to explore a few connected concepts. There is a squeeze bar on my mower that is intended to let the machine know the operator is no longer in control. This device was mandated by the Consumer Products Safety Administration, and some would regard it angrily as a government mandated inconvenience. But there are real idiots out there, like the MD who disabled the squeeze bar so he could lift his mower in both hands and use it as a hedge trimmer. He picked it up and immediately cut the tips from his fingers. I suspect he learned a few things from his experience... lessons that the CPSA hoped he might avoid.

So, I am grateful for a bit of government regulation. As we know less and less from our own personal experience, there become more and more things from which we will need to be protected.

Do you know how much money BP spent in lobbying efforts to avoid government regulation of oil drilling in the gulf? I consider it the teenage-boy-thing, trying to get away with things when the grownups aren't watching. You think you know lots better about things, even though your cerebral cortex is not fully developed. BP, showing obvious signs of corporate immaturity, tried to skirt the regulation, took risks equivalent to the redneck teen jumping head first in shallow water crying as his last words on earth, "Hey watch this!"

Regulation is a good thing. I draw a comparison with my writing. A good editor makes me a better writer. Good regulators would have saved BP over a billion dollars, and saved the Gulf environment, and millions of people tremendous heart-ache.

Yesterday we had a shooting incident in Arkansas where two men, stoked toward violence by anti-government rhetoric on Fox News and the internet, killed police officers. Do you see the pattern? I hope so.

I can tell you a few interesting things about work. Work in the real world, doing hand work or hard work or both work can be one of two things depending on your attitude. You work with joy toward personal fulfillment and expression of care, or you do not. One path leads to wisdom, the other does not. As we work, dependent on that choice, we either stew in things and grow angry or we become expansive in our thinking of things we might contribute toward the greater good.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Moral implications of craftsmanship


We tend to think of organized religions as the source of human morality, and yet, the crafting of an object is an expression of moral structure that likely predates any commandment or moral precept. Objects are made with care or they are not. Objects are made with an eye toward useful beauty, or they are not. Objects are made to last, or they are not. If we were truly concerned about building a society in which people care for each other, there is no better way than to engage our children in craftsmanship.

I have been reading Fred Taylor's book How to be a Furniture Detective, and find it to be a useful tool for anyone wishing to begin an in depth examination of the objects in their own home. You may find that some things were made with real integrity, and by examining them, you may discover the moral implications of craftsmanship. Some people really do care about themselves, and others, that care being expressed through their own hands.

In the photo above, you see the box I've been working on for burial of my mother's ashes. In the photo below, the box is assembled and ready for finish. A plywood bottom will be screwed in place, sealing it after the box of ashes is installed within.