Friday, January 14, 2011

The Beginner Mind of Woodworking

Alvah Simons comments on the patience of the Inuit people.  He writes

"...the patience of the Inuit are legendary.  Their minds and bodies move to longer rhythms than those of temperate-zone peoples.  Their coming of dawn is measured not in hours but in months.  Their days last great portions of a year and so their nights, not neatly balanced in diurnal convenience.  In their storms, to press on is to perish; one must wait, remaining always subserviant to the cruel forces of nature, moving when and how allowed.  In the Arctic, one must be bold but never brash, a lesson I might yet learn.  There one needs endless acceptance of what is, spending little time in a world of what was, or what might be.  It is the "beginner mind" of Zen teachings."  (p. 14, North to the Night, 1998 Broadway Books)

Almost ten years ago I left my fast paced, frantic, crisis managing position to find a simpler, saner life on 35 feet of sailing fiberglass that was tied at the time to a rickety dock on the Fraser River in the lower mainland of British Columbia.  The journey that began with that fateful decision to move aboard began a long, difficult and often painful pilgrimage of self discovery, for in the end the worst person you take with you is yourself.

Sailing northern waters soon teaches you that the wind and the sea are two indiscriminate forces that think little of our own agendas and schedules, and the person that learns to bob and weave with the changes is not only the happiest and most content but can often literally be the only one left standing.  This clashed directly with my operational mindset; a mindset that was deeply rooted from years of cultural indoctrination.  It was a tough transition from the city rat-race to one of patience and acceptance; shaking and moving to sitting in silence.  Gradually the new, softer me began to evolve with each day spent contemplatively in the cockpit.

Lack of space prevented us from keeping most of our possessions, and those items we did bring aboard were few and practical.  My tool inventory took a substantial hit, and what was left fit neatly in three, small, rectangular boxes.  A new appreciation of hand tools was born.  My workshop became any available dock-space and my supplier became whatever materials I could salvage or buy within walking distance of the harbor.  Life was radical and the change scary, yet deep inside I felt the comforting stirrings of something significant coming to life.

I've never looked back.  Though I confess we no longer live on a boat, those years aboard were years I wouldn't trade for anything.  Those years taught me the patience I needed to wait for circumstances to change, which they almost always inevitably did.  They also taught me to allow myself the flexibility to change course midway, and be OK with that.  Not everything we planned to do needed to turn out the way we envisioned.  The years aboard also taught me that consumerism doesn't bring happiness; contentedness does.  I learned to love the journey as well as the destination.  The moments spent in community and conversation were never wasted.  And the moment was something to be celebrated; the past was gone forever in our wake, and we never knew what lay around the next corner.

Those lessons continue to come back to me when I am now puttering on my shop stool fashioning some material into something I find useful or beautiful.  The process of the moment becomes something to treasure along with the end product.  Every step can become a project in itself, and the joy of seeing my labors slowly become a creation is more rewarding than all the toys and accomplishments I accumulated in my old life or in any of the people I see trapped in the clatter of the world around me.  It's all artificial contrivance and chaos, and every day I become a little more thankful for another opportunity I have to spend one more moment in quiet solitude, allowing my tools to teach me a little more of patience, contentment, and acceptance of what is.

For ultimately it's simply
"all a matter of becoming who we already are."  
Fr. Richard Rohr

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