alan little’s weblog

beginner’s mind

25th October 2004 permanent link

Knifesmith Don Fogg on the state of mind necessary for a craftsman (link courtesy of Evelyn Rodriguez):

In my early attempts to gain self discipline, I had to develop an objectivity about my thoughts. I found a vantage point from which I could observe myself and as I watched my thoughts rise up into consciousness, I began to realize that many were silly, inspired by memories or fantasies, but having no relevance to the present moment and the objective I was seeking to accomplish. The mind fires continually, first this direction then that. It can develop whole stories that spin on endlessly, some like nightmares recur and follow a dreary cycle that have an enviable conclusion of depression, sadness, anger or defeat. To learn discipline, you have to disperse these thoughts, they are dreams and take you from your work. Allow the work to draw you back. Employ the mind or it will employ you.

A useful tool for centering the mind is the breath. I have heard the breath described as a silver thread that links you to the universe. If you purse your lips slightly and draw a slow deep breath, it is not hard to imagine the coolness of space and the silver light of the stars being drawn into your body. When you exhale, you imagine the energy passing through you and discharging into the ground beneath you. It has a calming and centering affect. This is ancient wisdom.

As you begin to control your mind, you realize that it is insatiable. It hungers for stimulation and will quickly divert to anything that distracts it. The modern world is a cacophony of sounds and images. We process so much information in the course of one day, an old timer would be dizzy from the effect of it, but we hunger for even more. The radio plays constantly, the TV is always on, we can not sit with out reading …

I learned this chopping firewood on volunteer work weeks in Scotland with Trees For Life. When you’re at the top of the stroke, with the axe above your head, if your clear your mind of intentions and expectations and just let the axe go, the log splits cleanly and effortlessly. If you think “right, this time I’m really going to hit it” – thud. The axe goes halfway in and sticks and you’re there for the next five minutes prising it out.

I assume – although I’ve never tried it and have no interest in doing so – that golf must be something like this. Even though many of the people doing it probably don’t think it has anything in common with yoga or meditation

This also goes back to what I was saying last week about the ability to do impressive-looking advanced yoga practices. When my feeble attempts to do these things nearly succeed, it usually catches me by surprise and seems to happen pretty much by itself. Then on the next attempt, I think “right, that was good so what was I doing that made it work? I’m going to try really hard to do it again”. So then the next attempt is hopeless. There’s the real lesson. The ability to do these things isn’t important; the state of mind you have to be able to get into in order to do them is. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Advanced yoga practitioners (I surmise, since I am not one) have learned to enter this mental state more or less at will; or at any rate to live in a way that removes some of the internal and external obstacles to it occurring.

related entries: Yoga

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