Friday, March 02, 2007

I want to talk just for a few moments about what a friend of mine calls "the working surface." It can be best understood as the point of engagement between the individual and the material of intended transformation. It is easy to understand this principle in woodworking. Take a piece of sandpaper in your hand and pass it along a piece of wood. You will feel the movement of texture beneath the paper as it cuts the surface and you will feel the change in surface quality as it moves from coarse to smooth. You will hear the sounds of the grit engaging in the fibers of the wood. The scent of the wood arises with each stroke. You will see the motion of your hands and paper along the wood. You will see the effects of your work on the wood and the accumulation of sanding dust that results. Each of these senses: touch, hearing, sense of smell and sight are means through which you are empowered to pay attention to the working surface. All these, in combination provide the means to focus your attention on the moment of work, and through your attention, material is consciously transformed.

We can do lots and lots of things in an unconscious state. We can amaze ourselves by driving hundreds of miles, deeply immersed in thought, only to awaken and remember we're driving when someone cuts too closely in front.

We are quite capable of living our whole lives in a near unconscious state. We can space out in our imaginations, or travel away into the screens of our televisions and computers.

But those are not the places from which great arts arise. Great arts emerge from the conscious application of attention to the working surface, whether in wood, clay, bread dough, the strings of a guitar, or the conversation with a friend or spouse.

Great arts arise when we are fully present to the moment, fully alive as human beings in service to higher principles. Want to try it? The opportunity exists in every direction. The photo below is of a hand carved ivory reliquary in the Cloisters, New York City. The photo above is my own version of a reliquary. Instead of the bones of a saint, my simple reliquary holds turned samples of 25 Arkansas hardwoods.

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