Sunday, December 14, 2008

The farmer channels water to his land.

From the Dhammapada:
The farmer channels water to his land.
The fletcher whittles his arrows.
The carpenter turns his wood.
And the wise man masters himself.
I have been asked, "Does it get boring to do the same things over and over again?" What about the cutting and sanding that must be done if something is to be crafted with precision and care? The wise craftsman uses his attention wisely. He watches the transformation of material. He feels the texture as it moves from coarse to smooth. His mind never wanders, lest his intentions not be met. His attention is too precious to be wasted on the inconsequential wanderings of the common man.

As the farmer channels his water, as the fletcher whittles his arrows, and as the carpenter turns his wood, each works to master the landscape of self.

The mind wanders. The wise craftsman pulls it back into the moment and invests his attention in task at hand, that it may be done to convey wisdom and love.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

reflections on season and prophets

We are moving into the celebration of Christmas and other religious holidays, and I know many of my readers are busy making things to share as gifts. If you are a student of the Bible, you may notice that the prophets of the Old Testament were shepherds, given the task of caring for and counting the bounty provided by an autonomous Creator.

The prophet of the New Testament was the son of a carpenter, given the task of taking raw materials and shaping them into useful, beautiful objects.

Can you see why the Old Testament might regard the creator as distant, capricious and dominant, while in the New Testament Christ would say, "The Father and I are one?" To engage in creative acts is to place oneself in personal alignment with the fundamental creative power of the universe.

Of course, you can make meaningless stuff if you want. And you can make things carelessly and without regard to connection with the greater universe. I would like to suggest that we each have powers this holiday season to make connections that empower the things we make to transform the lives of others through the expression of our love. In the process we ourselves may also be transformed, becoming creators and grasping the wisdom of the universe.

Black Friday was just as bad as they expected. Big sales, but only for bargains. But if not buying things means we make them instead, I predict a wonderful holiday season in which the creator will be truly at hand.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"...the "chores" that were a necessary component of our grandparent's lives likely lifted their emotions in powerful ways."

This simple statement from Kelly Lambert, PH.D helps us to understand something that has been puzzling travelers and authors visiting the poorest places in the world. How can we account for the happiness of indigenous peoples in comparison to the relative unhappiness of those in the world's wealthiest nations?

On what seems another subject, video gaming, Ed Miller, Program Director of Alliance for Childhood is sending a draft of an article commissioned by the Alliance concerning the supposed effectiveness of video games in children's learning. I hope to be able to share some additional insight soon.

One of the games children are really loving these days is Guitar Hero. It involves game controllers shaped like guitars. My daughter Lucy said that her friends who really play guitar are likely to be good at playing Guitar Hero. But the kids who are good at Guitar Hero are very unlikely to show any skill in the handling of a real guitar.

So, what is there about the virtual world that makes it so appealing? I got a call this morning from a dear friend who is dying from cancer. When Joe said "Goodbye, Doug," there was a sense of finality as though we may not speak again. And we may not.

In the virtual world, we move on unscathed by life. If we die we are reborn for another chance, if the system fails, we reboot. In real life, there is suffering, pain, exquisite beauty, touching and being touched by real lives, making real things that last generations, sharing with those we love, the beauty we have conceived and the skills we have mastered. Perhaps some of that explains an old Zen saying, "Poverty is your greatest treasure, never trade it for an easy life."

But trade it we have. We have made things too easy for our own good, thus preventing our own happiness and the true happiness of our own children to unfold. So the answer seems to be that we must make it hard again, by choice, by attempting to make old fingers do new things, by stretching to master new concepts, by turning off the TV (and computer), to play music, to work in gardens, canning fruit, preparing meals for our families, and setting examples of effort to create, to make and to serve.

And while we are at it, let's make some things from real wood.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The photo at left shows my stump table, part of chapter 3 of the rustic furniture book I'm working on. The simple birch frame holds the chunk of spalted maple at a height which offers a possible use as an entry table. Or you could stretch things and call it "art". Unusual materials can be the key to the launching your creative imagination.

I published this to the wrong blog. But then I realized that this piece does say something about Zen. The stump is a simple expression of nature, its beauty and simplicity. The birch frame is spare, using mortise and tenon joints and short dowels to lift the stump, suspending it in space between the supporting legs. Publishing in the wrong blog also says something about Zen. When I say oops! Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

While in the US the media can't seem to get away from discussion of the economy and possible recession, the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is marching to a different drummer. Instead of Gross National Product, they measure quality of life rather than the economy alone in tracking their nation's progress. From Wikipedia: The term was coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 in response to criticism that his economy was growing poorly. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.

I offer this on a Sunday afternoon to assure readers that there is some wisdom in the world, and that not all peoples are driven by mindless wasteful consumerism. There is hope to be found in the restoration of values expressed and discovered through craftsmanship and service of the human hand.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Yesterday Courtney broke a nail, just a small tip, but it was something that had to be announced to draw the sympathy and attention of the class. The amount of special protection nails must receive as young women engage in woodworking (or anything else)is amazing to me.

This may go back to Socrates and before. Men and women of the upper classes were not to engage in the real work and creative efforts of the lower class. Their spirits were to soar unencumbered by fleshly form as they indulged in mastery of their slaves. Physical form was for adornment and sensation, nothing more. Dirt on the skin, grease under a nail, were evidence of betrayal of class values

The hands themselves are a source of status recognition. Beautiful long nails that have been colored and tended so carefully are a statement of idleness and indulgence being encouraged over other human values of creativity, industry and effort.

Our hands are much more an expression of personal identity than our faces. Our faces are only apparent to us when we look in mirrors and reflections, but our hands are always there when we pause from the internal chatter and look down.

In action and service the hands disappear as we engage in skilled manipulation of material. The man at the lathe skillfully shaping wood takes no notice of his hands. The tool and the hands holding it in well-practiced form, become an extension of his intellect as his consciousness engages directly in material and the creation of form.

Let’s consider Zen for a moment. The hands are the primary method of human engagement with essential reality. Extract the hands from their explorations of material and form, withdraw them from their essential role as the creative extension of intellect, force them to become mere expressions of idle reflection and adornment. What do you get? Is it the sound of one hand clapping idly in space and time with no noise and no noticeable effect? Let’s consider putting our hands together and see what we can do with two… Or how about you and I with four?

When Courtney broke a nail, I asked, “Is there blood, do you need a band-aid?” When Peggy broke a nail, I showed her how to fix it with sandpaper. You can see that in some things my heart is hard. But I have a soft spot for kids getting over the things that keep them idle and prevent the unfolding of creative self. I have a soft spot for broken nails, bent ones too. Let’s get more kids working with wood.