Saturday, September 23, 2006

Step One...Yesterday, I promised some step-by-step procedure on how to move from the life of the consumer to the life of the craftsman or maker or artist. You may not want to make any changes in your life or you may not see the need. In that case you may be reading the wrong blog.

Every journey starts with the first step, and no skill comes without the direct application of attention and care over a period of time. The first step is actually quite simple and immensely difficult because it involves breaking from a shell composed of intricately woven patterns of thought. Our habits deny attention to the sensitivity of our own hands. We touch things and learn their textures and temperatures, and we use the hands to further refine the information provided by our eyes of their size and shape, but once that information is received, we shut down primary communication with the hands and allow it to be overridden by patterns of circling habitual thoughts from outside the moment.

We can drive hundreds of miles with our hands conforming to the shape of the steering wheel without ever consciously noting their existence and while our thoughts circle in our heads unrelated to the road, to the car, or even to the destination. Essentially, our bodies have become mechanical vessels for the containment of obsessive notions that are most often unrelated to reality and to which we have attached undue importance. All these thoughts swirling in our heads, could actually be useful if we also did things to carry them into action, but generally, we feel things, and even feel them deeply, then congratulate ourselves on the excellent qualities inherent our feelings and then do nothing.

Unused to direct action, and the risk and effort involved, it is far easier and more comfortable for us to simply allow ourselves to become distracted by other desires and the internal dialog related to them. So, we sit on our hands. In fact, our hands have become so well trained to inactivity that sitting on them is no longer necessary.

Days ago, I made reference to "homunculus" diagram published by Penfield and Rasmussen in the 1950 book, The Cerebral Cortex of Man. It illustrates the seemingly disproportionate amount of the cerebral cortex utilized by the human hand. In the diagram, sensing is shown in the drawing at the left, and motor function is shown on the right, illustrating the primal role of the human hand in both the sensing and creating sides of human endeavor.

You can see that the hands have both a sensing function, and a movement or working function. Both of these functions move quickly to the unconscious as the surfaces in which the hands become engaged are known, and the working movements are developed as skilled patterns, no longer requiring direct, conscious attention.

Take the time to notice the hands as they proceed through the exploration of a new object, hold a new tool, or learn a new task. If you are like me, you may notice that in your first time hold on a new object your senses will be acute to the shape, texture and temperature of the object. Then, when you pick up the same object again, and then again, your sensitivity will diminish, becoming unconscious. If the object were to change in some way, you would notice, but not otherwise. Training the motor functions of the hand is often more gradual depending on the complexity and sensitivity of the action required. As an example of a common tool, pick up a pencil or pen. Your prior use of the instrument, the position of it within the hand, its angle in relation to the paper, and its movement across the page, are things learned and practiced throughout your life. At this point in your experience, you can hold a pen or pencil and write with no conscious attention to its presence in your own hand and write with no conscious notice of the movements of the hand.

A step-by-step path to artistic consciousness and growth proceeds as follows: First pay attention to your hands. It is by paying attention that you begin to divert your attention from circling thoughts to the surface of the world you inhabit. First will come a renewed sense of it. Withdraw your attention from the circling thoughts in your mind and place that same attention on the temperature, texture and form of the objects you come in contact with. Whether it is the water used for washing the dishes, or the shape and feel of the steering wheel on your car, the sensory experience of touch can move your experience from the unconscious to the conscious realm, and become the foundation of change in your life.

Tomorrow we will talk about step two.

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