Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Uncarved Block

In your heart, you already know.~ Zen saying

Depending on the space we happen to be in, the heart's knowing can be a curse,  blessing, or one more unanswered question. The hard part is getting our head into alignment with what we already sense, intuitively, to be true. A Zen master would probably suggest meditation might help, but that just puts me to sleep. Besides, I'm more an uncarved block kind of guy.

The uncarved block is a concept expressing naturalness and the oneness with nature embraced by Taoism. You may be familiar with the delightful book, The Tao of Pooh, in which the author, Benjamin Hoff, describes Winnie the Pooh as the uncarved block. Simple, uncomplicated, genuine -- these are words that describe Pooh. A complex bear he'll never be. His most severe problem involves getting his head stuck in a honey jar. Unlike me, unlike most of us.

Getting to the lowest common denominator in my own life has been a challenge and continues to be. Circumstances don't always cooperate with the effort and making a move in any direction can stir up a beehive of complications. The uncarved block, fortunately, isn't a way of living as much as a way of being. It's who we are more than how we live, though right being ought to result in right doing.

Living on this farm the past five years has been an exercise in simplicity and one that I've cherished. I've learned to consolidate errands because "town" is twelve miles away, down a curvaceous country road. Walking my dogs around the hayfield is a pleasure I can scarcely describe and gazing out the front window at a barn dating to the late 1770s is a childhood fantasy come true. I've never gotten past the sense that some late night I'm going to encounter the shimmering remnant of a colonial someone who lived here long before me.

When a person's focus is directed externally, it's difficult to be simple. The world does everything it can to tell us we've got to keep busy lest we be left behind. Complexity isn't the template for the uncarved block. A piece of wood that has yielded to knife and sandpaper no longer depicts its untouched state. The uncarved block must be seen with the mind's eye.

It's like that with people, when we intentionally overlook skin color, clothing, distinctions, differences -- foreignness. When we allow the potential for relatedness to take precedence over presumption. Turn on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) sometime when The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966), is on the schedule, as it was last evening. It's a comedy depicting a Soviet submarine that runs aground in a small, New England harbor. The residents of the town are up in arms because it's the era of the Cold War and instead of the British, the "Russians" have arrived at their doorstep. Townspeople and Russian sailors forget national pride to help rescue a child and suddenly, they're no longer enemies. 

A year ago, when bombs went off in Boston, Islamic-American doctors risked their lives alongside European-American doctors and first-responders to help everyone they could. The uncarved block was all that mattered. Getting simple enough to see that, all the time, is hard, especially when the voices of paranoia crowd the media, warning us one false step is only a single step away. Paranoia isn't a guide; it's psychosis, it's madness. Taking each other as we are is a better one. I'm quite certain, Pooh would agree.

(Creative Commons image "The Uncarved Block" by Beth Hoffman via Flickr)

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