Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the hands touch everything

The hands are engaged in every facet of human reality. If you touch something in your home, it is something that has been shaped consciously or unconsciously by human touch, and thus the hands themselves are an invitation to contemplation, prayerful meditation if you will. This morning, I seem to have little to say, as I have been particularly watchful of my hands. Even now, as I type this entry to the blog, I am paying greater attention than normal to the movements of each finger. As I rest and read what I've written, my hand are held in my lap, fingers entwined, and I notice.

I am not always able to do this. In my normal reality, I forget my hands. They fade into the background of cognition. As I do ten thousand things with them each day, my thoughts are swirling inside my head where one gets to make up stuff to suit one's fancy. But the hands themselves are the level of consciousness in which water is carried, wood chopped, and vital service is performed that transforms human reality. The work of the hands may be done without notice. Just as the hand on the stair rail leaves its polish and patina over time without intent, the hands have done their work.

But what if we are to truly transform our educational systems from one of fanciful distraction to one of concrete service, realistic engagement, and a deep, rich unfolding of higher consciousness? Will that come from paying attention to our hands or by avoiding, neglecting, denying them entirely as we have done?

I explained to my turning students yesterday that success on the lathe is not measured in how fast you turn, but how successful you can be at slowing down. The attention required can be excruciating at first if you are unused to using your hands and mind in such ways. Skill is like that.

Anaxagoras, one of the first Greek philosophers, and the one who first described the concept of mind, also noted that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. And so it is, that if we each are to become wise, it will be through the closest of attentions to our own hands. Do so. Pay attention. Make, fix, create.

Today in the CSS wood shop, I'll be helping the 7th and 8th grade students to begin making travel journals, and work with the 9th grade class in wood turning.

The Time magazine article about Tiger Moms has an interesting point for those who share my interest in hand/brain research. According to psychology Professor Daniel Willingham, University of Virginia,
"It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extensive practice. If you repeat the same task again and again, it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it."
According to the Time magazine article, "once this happens, the brain has made mental space for higher-order operations..." Does any of that remind you of your hands?

After school today, I cut mortise and tenon joints to connect the legs and stretchers for my Krenov inspired cabinet, as shown above.


  1. Anonymous2:59 PM

    I love reading your articles, they are like life poems! While it is not wood work, nor did I craft it, I recently finished refurbishing an industrial period pharmacist's cabinet ... and wanted to share it with you:) http://thedelightblog.wordpress.com/

  2. Your cabinet is beautiful. I am not familiar with the hematite treatment. Very pretty effect.