Friday, September 22, 2006

Sawdust Therapy...…Many woodworkers call their time in the woodshop, "sawdust therapy" in recognition of the kinds of feelings they get from it. A woodshop can be an escape from the pressures of the world. We can go into our workshops and feel rejuvenated and empowered. We can fall into creative activities that wisp us away into mental states in which time passes unnoticed and from which we emerge refreshed.

I particularly notice the effect when I’ve been away from the shop for some time. I take the first piece of wood and pass one edge across the jointer in preparation to start a project. An immediate sense of wellbeing comes over me. I've learned in conversations with other woodworkers and those involved in other hands-on activities, whether in the studio, the garden or the kitchen, that their feelings are the same.

We live with so many things in this world that we can't control, with each having such huge impact on our lives. Time in the woodshop, making something that requires our loving attention can take our minds off things we can do nothing about and places it squarely on things that we can control.

Move a gouge into the turning stock on a lathe, and you will observe the change in shape of the wood and the stream of shavings that fly from the cutting edge. Move a plane down the length of a board and you watch the ribbon of wood emerge from the mouth of the plane and then feel the straight smooth edge that results from your labor. Even something as simple as moving a piece of sand paper along the surface of a board, leaves noticeable effect, changing the state of the wood from coarse to smooth and at the same time having a similar effect on the mental and emotional state of the craftsman. Sometimes the effects are small, and you will need to pay careful attention but they are cumulative and will have affect.

It is interesting that one of the primary symptoms of depression is the sense of loss of control in one's own life. You can feel like things are spinning away on their own unrelated to your own input or control. With this in mind, you can see how a woodworker might call it "therapy."

If you watch carefully, and are engaged in observations of your own hands at work, you will see that a "feedback loop" is in effect. Can you see how this direct feedback loop can be used as a counter to the devastating symptoms of depression?

It is interesting that many people deal with depressive episodes by shopping. To go into a store and get feedback in the form of attention and acknowledgement from a clerk, and then to go out and be noticed by friends wearing your most recent acquisitions can shift attitudes, as long as you can afford the costs, the extensive time involved in shopping and are shallow enough to think that the attentions of the sales clerk are earned by something other that the available credit line on your charge card. As a contrast, imagine the feedback you can get in the making of an object; first in your own feelings of growth and success, and then in sharing it with others? Can you see a difference between attention bought and attention earned?

Check your credit line and the depth of your character to see the limits of the one course of action. Look to your imagination, and your willingness to put your time and attention in the practice of an art for the other. As a craftsman, I mourn for those who don't know the difference.

It is amazing how easy it is to see things and understand things, and how difficult it can be to actually turn the tide of one's life from empty consumerism to fulfillment of one's life and potentials in the arts. Please tune in tomorrow for the simple step-by-step.

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