Woodworking, Beginner's Mind: A Zen Path
The practice of Zen isn’t limited to monasteries. It’s present in any human activity.
If, for a moment, we associate the practice of Zen Buddhism with Hollywood celebrities, we may think that the two have very little in common. But actor and carpenter, Nick Offerman, appears as an unlikely example that one needn’t be a monk to practice the Zen of everyday life.
Offerman’s has been a long and versatile career. He’s appeared in TV series like 24, Gilmore Girls, and Parks and Recreation, as well as in countless voice overs for movies, video games and television. But when he’s not on set, Offerman is also an accomplished carpenter. And it is not an eccentric pastime. Rather, it’s something that’s accompanied him throughout his life, a way to avoid losing his sanity and to stay focused.
“Wood,” explains Offerman, ‘is something we’re able to shape with hardened steel… rather than stone or glass, for my money, wood is so friendly to work with.”
In multiple interviews, Offerman has related that auditions for acting roles left him feeling stressed and worried for days. To alleviate the condition, he went into the carpentry shop and began to work on something: it may have been as simple as filing a piece of wood and joining it to another with nails or glue. After a while, “I would see the tangible result of this work that I had done. The thing is, there’s no way to describe the sensation. There’s magic in it.”
Offerman came to describe this magic as “An incredible meditative or Zen quality.” This gave him a “mellow demeanor to the point that I do not longer cared as much about the TV shows.”
This recalls one of D.T. Suzuki’s most powerful teachings in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Suzuki explains that shoshin (beginner’s mind) is the goal of all authentic spiritual practice, and specifically of Zen. Like carpentry, acting, or any activity that can takes place over a long period of time, the mind will lose its original freshness, or as Master Suzuki calls it, “the limitless meaning of the original mind.”
Spiritual practice isn’t limited to mechanical devotion that leads adepts to recite again and again sutras or prayers while neglecting to put all of their intention into them. Rather, beginning to build a wooden table, or a doghouse, with no other intention in mind except for this task which absorbs both body and concentration. Such a task put Offerman into a state very similar to that of shoshin, the mind of the apprentice.
The temptation to feel we’ve mastered something can cloud our perception and provoke unnecessary expectations, and this will ultimately lead to suffering. On the other hand, finding a pure, simple satisfaction in the activities we carry out in the present is a source of connection and an engine for learning much more powerful than any false sense of mastery.
No matter what we’re doing, regaining our original astonishment and sense of intention with our daily tasks through shoshin can be a goal for keeping, always, the mind fresh and the heart open.
Image: Udo Schönemann – flickr
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the