Monday, March 12, 2007

Last year about this time, I taught a class of "Practical Philosophy" Students in a course on making Shaker tables. The idea was somewhat different from the classes I usually teach to adults, where the objective is to teach specific techniques.

The course for Practical Philosophers was planned to give a hands-on component to work in meditation. While the making of 16 shaker tables, one each for the students in the class, provided the structure and plan for the class, its real intent, consciously shared by all was for students to use their hands to engage "the working surface." It is interesting that as one masters a skill, the mind is liberated to wander while the hands move unconsciously through the motions they have been programmed to perform. It is not surprising that the hands are nearly forgotten in education. It is the way they work in seamless harmony with thought.

Most people these days, have developed skills allowing the brain to process thoughts into words and words into sentences and sentences onto the computer screen with little thought to the fingers moving on the keyboard. Keyboards, and the keys themselves are designed to offer little resistance or little sensory response that would interfere with the process.

It is common for human beings to look for work that can be done in an unconscious state, allowing our minds to wander through endless cycles of circling thoughts, often bordering on neurosis.

So, what if the hands were more consciously engaged, to feel the surface of the wood and its transformation without being pushed aside into subconsciousness and refusing the mind its typical wander? Have you heard the mantra from Ram Dass, "Be here now, Now be here?" What if the hands were used as tools in meditation to keep the thoughts and consciousness in the present moment?

It is what craftsmen do. Some once in awhile, some all the time. We push ourselves to learn and master new techniques requiring that the totality of our attention be placed squarely on the task at "hand." It is called growth. It keeps the body and spirit in the moment, allowing for the full blown dimensions of life to swell within the heart, and the spirit to take wing.

It was extremely interesting to hear from the students what they learned and what they discovered about themselves. The photo above is of students sanding and assembling their tables.

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