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Woodworking as meditation

In today’s world, we lack me-time

If you are reading this, it is on some sort of electronic device. They are great, we can keep in touch with close ones and connect with other people from all over the world. However, as is with everything, when not moderated, screen time can get out of control.

Jokes aside, it is not screen time itself that is the issue.
Many websites and apps rely on business model that sells our attention to advertisers. That leads to more and more advanced techniques for making us addicted to the usage of those apps. So, we are now addicted to consuming their content.

We are also losing our ability to focus for a long period of time or to do nothing. The moment we have a first glimpse of boredom, we open Instagram and scroll away.

What to do about it

First, let’s discuss why do something about it. Technology has been affecting us for a long time. We have been media consumers for quite a while now (thus the meme on the right).

However, there are some important differences between newspaper and smartphone.

There’s a finite end point to reading a newspaper, and it usually took no longer than 45 minutes to get there.

Kevin Hoffman

There are several techniques that one could choose to calm the brain and stay grounded.

Many suggest meditation. On the most basic level it is a way of being mindful, of allowing yourself time to focus on what you are doing. You are then able to listen to your thoughts and understand yourself.

Why woodworking

There are many ways to meditate and a few include some ritual or manual labor. Depending on amount of time you have and your inner desires, you would decide what type of work to do.

Crafts are an often choice. They require dedication, but are also highly individual and allow you to explore your creativity during the process. Pottery, drawing or playing music are already known as having meditating qualities.

Not quite so with woodworking.

There are several reasons for this. Woodworking is seen as not easily approachable and as requiring big space and budget. It is linked to dangerous machines and injuries. While machines are now much safer and working with them can also lead to mindfulness, I’ll be focusing here on hand tools woodworking. By this I mean mostly using offgrid, unplugged tools.

Final shaping of mallet handle with spokeshave.
Photo by Novoselski.

There has been a renaissance of hand tools. This can be confirmed by many content creators who are finding bigger audience for this type of working with wood. Because of this we now have free and paid quality information available on how to start, what to buy and how to perform certain tasks. As it usually is, business follows and there are now many companies which offer refined new tools for unplugged woodworker. The abundance of used hand tools from last couple of centuries is not going to be used up any time soon, so there is that option as well. Minimal toolset could be purchased for very little money and many amateur woodworkers work on small areas in their dining room. If you have bigger budget and more space, great, but that is not always needed nor desired, depending on what you want to do.

How is woodworking meditative

When working with wood and hand tools, you are forced to slow down and work with speed that your hands do. This is a good thing. If you are beginner, it will require most of your focus to perform even the simplest of tasks. This is even better. When focusing hard on the specific task at hand, there is little brain power left to worry about anything else. This naturally leads into mindfulness and our brain stops wondering around.

After a while some actions start coming naturally to you and require little thought. You allow your hands and body to do the work, while you take a step back and observe and enjoy the results. Again, a win for your meditation goals.

There is also benefit of working with natural material. Shaping it into something that is useful or beautiful (or both!) is very rewarding.

“What about beginners and mistakes and how to enjoy results that are far from good” – you ask?

For a start, in the context of this topic, we do not need great results. You could just make wooden shavings with a hand plane and 20 minutes later, you’ll feel better and your mind will be clearer. Isn’t that enough?

But, what if you do want more, what if you want to make something nice?
This is a topic for my next article: Woodworking as a journey