Sunday, January 22, 2006

 

Setting the Table

Many years ago I had this mysterious experience. It lasted only a moment, but to describe its impact I have to create a vast visual image. In that moment I had a sense of the great process of creation, of a universe exploding from nothing, of clouds of gas and dust falling into suns and planets, of the process of life moving from single cells through greater complexity and on to me. I was the penultimate result of the billions of years of solar and planetary formation and of the millions of years of the struggle to come to conscious life. The question that struck me with great force was this. Was I worthy of the great process? Was I really conscious? Did my life honor and extend this great process, this great gift? The answer was no, I was just another monkey, aimlessly swinging around, nervously chattering and throwing shitballs in the face of the great immensity. It’s hard to know what to do with experiences like this. At first I was just depressed, not knowing the next step. The experience remained in my mind.

One of the things I’ve found to be true in this spiritual quest is that it’s good to master something that connects the body and the mind, something that helps create a unity of being. It could be martial arts, it could be gardening. One of my martial arts teachers once said that anything we choose to master can enlighten us, but if it doesn’t lead us to understanding who we really are, then the discipline is just clever behavior. Clever, clever monkey behavior. Several years after the mysterious experience I came to woodworking and I’ve been doing that for thirty years. I also earned a blackbelt in Aikido. These disciplines would have been pointless however, if they hadn’t guided me to being a better husband, a better father, a better human being.

For the moment I have left my teaching career to devote time to writing and publishing. I have also immersed myself once again in the joy of wood. I’m working on a table that has the feel of a Zen brushstroke. That in a sense is how I know I’m on to something, when its expression has the feel of a brushstroke done to a long exhalation. As for my writing, I’d like to be a Thoreau or Emerson, but we’ll see. That would be a nice brushstroke to extend through the rest of my existence. I’ve said all these things in order to set the table for our next time together. For your part, I’d like you to consider the image in the first paragraph above. Can you see this great immensity coming down to you? Does your life honor this process or are you throwing shitballs? Think about these things. How do you want to spend the rest of your existence?




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