Unworked Wood

Let the world go by and you may hope to return to your origins, to the base reality from which you came and to which you will return.

Let the world go by and you may find yourself at peace.

I have sometimes imagined life as an oak tree, in some distant forest untouched by man.  Unworked wood.  If a tree has consciousness then it must be of a very peaceful sort, unruffled by the tedious concerns of the human world.

My pen friend Keith has repeatedly advised me to let go. To let humanity and it’s 10,000 things trundle along without me.

Somewhere, not so deep down, I have always known that this is necessary. For me at any rate.

It seems advantageous somehow not to think badly of the world and that I think has been a part of the problem for me. On the one hand I look at the world and feel sadness for what happens and how our species is ruining it and themselves. But that is merely kicking against the pricks. As they say in Acts. And so I feel better in my soul when I simply view man’s busyness from afar and step aside.

Certainly anger at the world is corrosive and part of letting go must be to drop any anger for the way things are. And any ambition to change that state. Nice as it would be, it is not going to happen. Not now, perhaps not ever and to fret about it is both useless and damaging.

Let’s face it violence, poverty and disease are facts of life. Perhaps busy and dedicated people more interested in the world, more determined to be an active part of it, may save us from its evils eventually. I hope so. But I can not join their works.

I think almost from the very earliest stages of my life I was uncomfortable with “the world”.  Not with the physical world and nature, with its soothing fractal beauty, but the world of busyness, business and human concerns.

As a child I was all about art, drawing, woodwork. And science – which sadly I never followed beyond my early education. Oddly enough acting and singing formed an important part of my prep school years.  Not so odd perhaps if one views these as part of a general love of art and music, poetry and prose.  Actually I never followed any of these things again until much more recently.

Looking back, I was always seeking something in these activities very far removed from the world I ended up in as an adult.

I feel no need to let go of beauty. I feel no need to stop singing ethereal music. I feel no need to stop reading poetry, sacred or otherwise. I must take up woodwork again and I am passionate about my garden.

The key to not letting even such beauty distract you and bog you down is to develop an unattached appreciation of it and participation in it.

I refuse to let Purcell worry me and if I will never be anywhere close to the standard of the young bass who sings with us for encouragement, then so be it. That he sings with Genesis Sixteen is something to celebrate, not get busy up about.  Enjoy it without attachment.  Enjoy all things without attachment.

That I get unspeakable joy from a Gothic cathedral is not something I feel any need to let go of or to stop enjoying. But quiet acceptance and an unattached enjoyment do me far more good than any academic study or deep involvement with the people who inhabit it.

I feel no need to let go of art, and if I am inspired by Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s feast or Vermeer then that is not something I need to drop. As long as such beauty is seen from a detached and un-obsessive point of view.

If I want to take up woodwork again, then it will be for pure pleasure. A pleasant way of spending the odd hour. But I refuse to get attached to any one aspect of the life I am leading. Even my hobbies I can let go by and not attach too great an importance to them.

I have perhaps overcome obsession by now. Or maybe more accurately I am learning to give it up. To let such joys come and go, to notice and enjoy things but not to become fixated or bound by them.

Today was a day for letting go. I threw off the customary black lens and put on a kinder hue. I did nothing on the train journey from the dark satanic mills of 21st Century London down to our little cottage by the sea. I emptied my mind, closed my eyes. Stared out of the window from time to time and munched a sandwich. I lived, I existed and let go. There was one of those glorious moments of pure peace along the way. Although it was more than a moment and lasts still.

As night follows day, so my mood will undoubtedly change, if not tomorrow then next week or month or year. Nothing stays the same, let alone something so fragile and ephemeral as mood. I will doubtless find myself once again wearing the black spectacles. Or perhaps not, who knows.

But these moods too must be let pass. And they will. As will everything in this temporal world. As my friend in Canada said, enjoy this life while it lasts. It is too short to waste on worldly matters.

8 Comments

  1. I came back to read this again. It is wonderful and describes what I think of as the essence of Buddhism, the letting go. It’s what occupied most of my adult life, trying to do that. I achieved a good deal of it, too, I think. As I said earlier, I’ve let it slip a bit, but I haven’t lost it. I don’t think you can.

    You also intimate here something that’s a bit of a paradox in Buddhism (not that I’m an expert), which is that the Buddhist seeks practises non-attachment, not allowing emotional responses to cloud the mind, particularly – as you suggest – anger. But we get attached also to positive emotions, even in that we unconsciously fear their loss, or sense some existential emptiness behind them.

    Then again, the advice is to lose attachment to things being any different from how they are (including your current inability to control your emotion!), which I think you also suggest here, even the possible return of black dogs. One is not free of depression who is not depressed but reliant on never being depressed again. And that’s the weird paradox. Beyond the pleasure and pain, if we come to terms with these enough, is equanimity, which is a kind of pleasure. Which is nice, but philosophically odd.

    It’s such a deep pleasure, some warn against it becoming a trap, and sitting in zazen for the rest of your natural days.

    The goal, then – the enlightened state – is often described as being beyond this peaceful one where monks repose, which seems difficult enough to attain from the normal condition of life. When we have mastered equanimity sufficiently (the guru might say ‘perfectly’, but to hell with perfection, I say), the path takes us back into the world, where we can engage as a human being again, now capable of making wise choices uncorrupted by our desires. I’ve done that, however imperfectly.

    I disagree with, “Life is too short to waste on worldly matters”, but that’s also underlined by the fact that I don’t believe there’s anything else, so obviously there’s nothing better to spend my life attending to. That is the even more dangerous trap equanimity lays for the unwary – it got me for years – the belief that the “other realm” is where the peace came from, and we can go there one day. It’s the other reason too many monks get their begging bowls out instead of doing something useful.

    1. I have been thinking a lot about what you have said. Yes, I also think it is important not to get attached to positive emotions. But to enjoy them in passing is perhaps different. I think that as Keith suggested in a response to this post, I should have no need to control my emotions (my black lens moods) since they should arise less severely and less frequently as the practice of letting go deepens. At least that is my fervent hope! So that things may be different from the way they have been not by any volition or effort on my part but simply by virtue of the daily practice of letting go. Or so I hope. But yes the paradox is there – beyond pleasure and pain lie equanimity; which, certainly by comparison to the black dog, is highly pleasurable.

      I’m not at all sure that I am concerned by the trap of such deep pleasure. To be honest it is what I have been seeking these many years and I’m not sure that the seeing of reality for what it is presents much of a problem; for me at least. I’m very content with zazen (certainly metaphorically speaking anyway).

      You know, I am not at all sure I want to be lead back into the world. I would like to feel in it but not of it. I certainly like the idea of making wise choices but I simply don’t want to be back in busyness, let alone business. And thankfully neither you nor I need to, although I still feel I would make a perfectly happy lighthouse keeper or postman in the Scottish Isles. Or perhaps an archivist buried deep somewhere back in Oxford. But since neither you or I have to do any of that, in my case at least I think I would prefer not to. Not out of laziness, just out of a desire to go further down the path of meditative quiet.

      I quite understand your belief that there is “nothing else”. And perhaps that does not matter if we manage to achieve equanimity in the here and now. If we do that then we have achieved peace for good, because if there is nothing after death….well, that sounds pretty peaceful to me. And of course as we both know the translation of nirvana is a “snuffing out”. And that’s fine by me.

      I suspect that peace is attainable in the here and now and clearly from time to time I manage to achieve this.

      Personally, I have always harbored a sneaking suspicion that there is something else. Perhaps that is why i am so captivated by panpsychism and immanence. As we know the material turns out to be not material at all – all matter is, we are told, vibration. So at this stage I am inclined to go with the idea that the apparently miraculous may indeed be out there. Perhaps as a non “material” energy component or some as yet undiscovered force of nature.

      Here’s hoping!

      1. I probably sounded surer of myself than I am, and of course, each must make their own way. I definitely sounded more enlightened than I am too. It doesn’t take much to get me riled even now, as I was reminded almost immediately after writing it! I was just waxing lyrical on the theory. I certainly don’t want to imply that you, or anyone, should be hard working or try to save the world from its ills. The rant about monks was a bit OTT. I can’t understand how the quiet doesn’t just become a bore in the end though.

        I had a little daydream that maybe you’d get into your woodwork and, like the craftsman you wrote about recently, sell your products. These enterprises don’t have to be about needing to, of course, but if an artist makes a lot of stuff, it’s better to sell it, even cheaply, or give it away, than have it filling up a shed or something. Activities like that are as much about sharing — which of course you do eloquently and beautifully with your words. What kind of woodwork did/do you do? With me, it is mostly laziness. Writing suits me – no tidying of a workshop, sharpening tools, just sit and move fingers minimal distances! Not necessarily in the right order.

        1. I know what you mean, writing is so effortless. Gosh, I used to make all sorts of things but miniature furniture was a favorite. I certainly wouldn’t mind working by making things but I am so totally useless at sales and marketing. I could probably happily sit and make stuff like my craftsman in Rye but I rather doubt I have the skills after so many years.
          I don’t thing I am lazy but I think I would find almost any commercial involvement a bind these days. Imagine all the horrible paperwork and accounts. I lived in Switzerland for around 18 years mostly trading stocks and bonds for my own account – absolutely no contact with anyone necessary really and no paperwork. The Swiss said it was all capital gains which did not need reporting. Perfect!

          I probably ought to do some more trading…but…er…odd to relate I am having difficulty in getting around to it!

  2. Oh Anthony! Jubilant bells must be pealing throughout existence.

    Like John, I read your beautifully crafted exegesis of the current divine personal text of your awakening several times. It awoke the similarities in your path that John and I recognise in ours. It seems your veils lifted and caused some of ours to lift too. Thank you.

    However, your lingering aversion to a return of Black Dog’s bullying begs the question: If it comes to Black Dog versus Reality, who do you think will win now? I think Black Dog will be a no show.

    Kindest regards,

    Keith.

  3. This has to be one of my favorite of your posts, or at least, very near the top. My own reactions while I read along were affirmed as nearly identical to yours, and the suggestions that you offer for our consideration are so pleasing to contemplate, that I found myself reading this one several times, just for the sheer pleasure of my own responses.

    Your agreeable relationship with the “natural world,” of forests and landscapes of Nature’s artwork, mirrors my own, as does your interest in art, and music, and poetry etc., and it seems we both were engaged in acting and singing in our early educational experiences. Your descriptions of your enjoyment of traveling between London and the cottage, felt so familiar to me, not because of those specific locations, but rather, my blissful and equally appealing travels in Europe as a young military man, letting go of all the stress and enjoying the experience in very much the same way that you describe.

    The part of your post that piqued my interest the most, though, was when you wrote:

    “I have sometimes imagined life as an oak tree, in some distant forest untouched by man. Unworked wood. If a tree has consciousness, then it must be of a very peaceful sort, unruffled by the tedious concerns of the human world.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay, “Nature,” wrote that “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and vegetable.” The suggestion by Emerson not only implies our own connection to all living things, but that the connection itself implies a transcendent aspect to such a relationship. A while back I wrote a post which specifically addressed my own connection to a tree, right in my own back yard.

    <a href="https://johns-consciousness.com/2011/10/23/conversation-with-a-silent-friend/&quot; Tree

    Although I fully appreciate the spirit of your expression of your interest in “Unworked Wood,” it is my feeling that if there actually is some level or version of consciousness in trees, it would necessarily be of such a radically different sort, that any comparison to our own version would also be unlikely to yield any rational conclusion. Still, it does beg the question a bit of what such a consciousness might be like, and just thinking about the possibility is worthy of our consideration.

    The challenges of being human, the variety of potentials yielding either good or bad results, the clear disparity between all the sets of opposites in the world, all can weigh on us at any given time of our lives, and often, letting go of our judgements as to the nature of these extremes, as well as our attachment to every variety of obsession, both positive and negative, may be the best recommendation one could receive in this regard.

    1. Thank you. So had I to be honest. I am determined not to lose the path again. Although that is easier said and done if and when the black dog reappears.

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