Talking with the Master 3
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The Master was sitting on his chair with his eyes closed. I stood in the doorway not knowing, or understanding, what I was seeing. In front of him was a large cut block of white oak. We had bought this tree last year, had cut it, and let it set in the shop to dry. The Master had seen the makings of a fine table top in the sweeping swirls and rich tones of the wood.
He had been in the shop for several hours and had done very little work, or so it seemed. My own work had gone well. I had picked and cut several boards that would be used later on matching chairs. I looked around the large shop with some satisfaction. It was good to have a purpose in life and I had my teacher to thank for that.
“You can come in. I am not sleeping. I am doing my very best to calm my mind.”
I walked in and pulled up a chair. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers over the large block of seasoned oak, feeling its energy and the movement of the once living wood. I opened my eyes and looked into the serene face of my friend and teacher. “Why must you calm your mind?”
“Because I was upset. It came up on me, like a thief, and stole my peace.”
“I don’t believe I have ever seen you upset.” I was a little tickled that a chink in his enlightened armor had revealed itself.
“I’m human. I get upset. The way in which I handle that unfortunate state is what is important.” He reached out and patted the wood. “This piece will not do. When we cut it - it will be weak toward the center.” He pointed to a knot and a tight grain pattern.
I didn’t see it, but went to the other cut end and looked closely at the grain from the cross cut. “It looks fine to me.”
“It looked fine to me also, but I think we will use it for something else.”
“But Master, that will set us back at least a month. I thought…!” I watched myself getting angry and frustrated. What was being said, more readily, affected me than him. I would be doing all the extra work and be spending more hours than usual to meet our deadline.
“You seem upset - now.” He smiled that ‘I got you smile’ and I immediately sat down.
“I am upset. It means a lot more work for me.”
“Yes. It does.”
‘Well. I guess there is nothing to do with it except get to work.” I was fuming and didn’t mean what I said.
“A most enlightened view, but I suspect you will go about that work while being upset.”
“Of course I’ll be upset.” I was rocking in my seat. Something I do when I’m uncomfortable. “I just cut all the pieces for the legs and I was hoping to start carving them tomorrow – now I can’t. They may end up twisting and then I’ll have to cut some more leg pieces.”
“All that is true. I would rather you not do any more work on this piece. Perhaps you could go bake a cake or a pie. You are less likely to be upset in your kitchen.”
I was stunned and felt my cheeks redden. I had never been so insulted in my life. “What does that mean? Are you saying I don’t know what I’m doing? I know what I’m doing out here, and in the kitchen. I may not be an artistic guru - like you are, but I have skills – I have skills.” I stood up and paced back and forth. I couldn’t even look in his face for being so angry. “I didn’t screw up – I don’t pick the big pieces – you do. So, you screw up and I get to do the extra work – is that it? I tell you sometimes you really piss me off.” I stormed out of the shop and went into the kitchen. I looked around at my kitchen and all the things in it that made me happy and began to calm down. I leaned against the counter, taking deep breaths, and tried my best to get some perspective. All that happened was that he said he couldn’t use that piece. I was the one who started running a list on what would have to be done. I turned and filled the teapot with water and put it on the fire. I was feeling guilty for my reaction, but I was also feeling justified. I had good reason to be angry. We made a promise to our clients to have that table done by a certain date and now that won’t happen. What - he doesn’t care about integrity – after jamming that whole conversation down my throat? I decided to bake a cake, a moist chocolate cake. I always baked a moist chocolate cake when I get upset. It soothes me.
By the time the cake was out of the oven I was feeling pretty calm. I set the cake layers on the counter to cool. Then it hit me. I had just been going through another lesson. It was the cake that made the light go on. I turned and walked back out to the shop. The master was sitting in front of a different block of wood, a piece bigger than the one that had caused all the upset. “I was wondering something.”
“Yes?” He didn’t look up as he rubbed his hands over the cut surfaces of the wood.
“Did you get me upset so that you can have chocolate cake? I realized that we hadn’t had it for some months. You could have just asked.”
“Oh, but there is magic in a cake, you make, when you are gathering in your energies.”
I walked over and looked at the huge piece of wood. I sat and put my hand on it.
My Master smiled at me. “Do you see the grain here?”
“It is caused by upset.”
That I didn’t get, but I was sure that revelation was forthcoming.
“The tree is buffeted by the wind. There are seasons with little water. There are times of dreadful cold and fire. Each time this great slow moving creature bends and flexes, to adjust. As it grows, beauty is created. All these things cause this beauty. It is true of humans, as well, if they learn from those upsets.”
I looked at the wood and sighed. I recognized this piece, this perfect piece. This was the one that we had both chosen for the table, and I was an idiot. The other earlier piece was an older piece to be used for a cabinet. I had gotten mad for nothing. I had made up all those dreadful scenarios in my head. “This is the piece we were going to use for the table top?” he nodded and smiled. “The piece in front of you earlier…”
“I was just looking at it to see if there would be some better use than a cabinet. I was thinking of making some chests and I think that piece would be wonderful – so much detail in the grain.”
“Why did you let me get upset?”
“I didn’t let you do anything – you did that very well on your own.”
“But you could have told me it wasn’t the piece for the table.”
“Why would I do that? You know the wood we have – was I wrong to assume that you would know?”
He had me there. I loved wood and seemed to remember every grain and tone. I held it in the same way I do my cooking, a matter of personal pride. “Of course not. I was not being present to the moment – was I?”
“I think perhaps you were distracted by me – by my upset. It is contagious you know?”
“Upset - anger. It is like a cold. You come in contact with it and it infects you. It is why it is, and if not – should be a moral stance to be happy even if your not.”
“What - fake it till you make it? That’s nonsense – positive thinking – new age stuff.”
“Your mind is not you. We live our lives thinking the mind is who we are. It is only a device that keeps us safe from danger, figures out problems, and remembers things – not all things and often not what we need to remember. And in that sense not always a trustworthy thing. Self is the observer of mind. Listen in the quiet and you will notice its constant chatter. It is always talking, but whom is it chattering to? And who is listening? You walked in, earlier, and I told you I had been upset. Your mind decided to go to work on the data it had, you listened, and believed everything it told you. Then you acted on it, as if it were true, and went off on me.”
“I’m sorry.” I felt ashamed.
“Now your mind is trying to protect you by telling you to be embarrassed. Don’t be. Let me tell you a story. There was this very depressed man. He sat alone in his room going over in his mind all his options and all the reasons that he had for having no hope. His mind told him it was useless and that he could only end his life – the only solution. He drove himself to a bridge and climbed up on the railing and looked down at the dark waters far below. He asked his mind, one last time, if there was any other answer, any other way. His mind said ‘No, this is the only way.” The sad man jumped and half way down his mind said, “Wait, there is this one thing we could do.”
I laughed and immediately covered my mouth. “That’s not really funny – it’s horrible.”
“I make a point. All that happened this morning was you created an expectation and that expectation was thwarted – upset. The mind then goes off and gives you all of the possible scenarios that the new parameters afford. One thwarted expectation thwarts another, and another, and pretty soon you’re in the kitchen making a chocolate cake. The thing to do with the mind is to own it as a wonderful tool and watch it, and listen to it, as distinct from who you are – your self. So you see, being happy is something you do separate from all the mind chatter we all live with – we are human, but we are more than we think we are..”
I got it and smiled. “So, I thought you were upset because you had made a mistake and then my mind just filled in all those terrible blanks.” He smiled and I watched him, lovingly, run his hands over the wood in front of him. “If you don’t mind me asking – what were you upset about?”
“It had dawned on me how long it had been since we had that wonderful chocolate cake you make. I was upset, because in the past the only way that cake was made was if you got upset. I didn’t want to make you upset, but I really wanted the cake.” He smiled. “Isn’t life a wonder?”
I laughed and got up to go ice the cake.
Why is doing what you love the hardest thing to do? Is it because failing what you thought defined you would be too devastating a thing from which to recover? If so, we stay where mere accident has left us.