Life at the Center – February 2015

Cliff’s hands weren’t hurt – but something was definitely wrong. One day he finally realized what it was, “You know, I really love building things with my hands, and I don’t get to do it much at my job anymore.”

As our younger son Govi has taken on the role of project superintendent in our construction company, Cliff has become more of the office guy, doing all the bidding and paperwork required for public works construction. While Govi has done the hands-on stabilizing of dangerous boulders above people’s houses, installing wire mesh on steep slopes and building retaining walls, Cliff has been mostly stuck at his desk.

I’m always intrigued about what it is that makes human beings human, and I suspect our unique hand/mind connection with its potential for creativity is an important piece of that mystery.

People love using their hands at work and in play. As babies we are absolutely fascinated by the movement of our newly discovered hands. As young children, we delight our hands’ abilities to create, whether painting a sun to shine on our stick-figure mom, or a playing song on the piano keys, or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by ourselves. As we get older, we might enjoy using our hands in shop class or chemistry lab. I liked geometry because I got to use a compass and ruler to draw lines and circles and shapes. Every day in Bali, we saw people making colorful little offerings of bamboo strips they had fashioned into tiny baskets, filled with various flowers, candies and bright bits of paper, which they place on their doorsteps and altars.

For some people, working with their hands is something done in community: the women who piece quilts together for the Iolani Fair, or the fishermen in villages around the world who patch their nets together during the off season, or the families who prepare their Thanksgiving dishes, laughing and squabbling in a crowded kitchen, and the ones who clean up afterwards, one person washing dishes, another drying them and a third carefully placing the silverware back into its special box to await the next holiday meal. One of the happiest sounds l know – besides birds chirping at dawn – is congenial workmen chatting on the jobsite as they ready their tools in the morning – sharing each other’s company with busy hands at work…

Cliff just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. He just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. Fortunately, since we started rebuilding our house Cliff’s got plenty of hands-on tasks to do when he finishes his office job! He’s been brushing various stains onto the wood we’ll be using to see which color we like. He recently worked on our bathroom floors, in which he had embedded stones and little seashells in the concrete. To be able to see the fluted shapes of the shells’ interiors, Cliff dripped resin into each tiny shell in the floor with one of the world’s most multi-use tools: a pair of chopsticks! So he’s happy as the proverbial clam now that he’s using his hands creatively again!

When our power went out with last week’s high winds, Cliff came up with a way for us to heat-up water for coffee and tea: he held a blowtorch under a pot on the oven rack. Hands and tools!

I love to cook. Something about it settles my nerves when I make an old favorite, and it appeals to my creative side when I come up with a new dish. My hands like stripping the kale leaves off each side of their thick stems, chopping onions in a grid design with a good knife blade, rolling out a pie dough crust, mixing the eggs with a wire whisk or chopsticks(!), stirring the hot chocolate with my favorite wooden spoon, spreading frosting onto a birthday cake. I also love to arrange flowers, and I have a new hand love that I’ll share with you some day: painting.

Some handwork requires acute intelligence and informed skill, such as playing a Rachmaninoff piece on a grand piano or performing a delicate eye surgery. Watching a true artist at work in almost any field, I see an amazing orchestration of the mind and hands.

‘Mind’ – ‘hand’ – ‘human’: I am fascinated by these three words being related linguistically. The Sanskrit word manas, meaning mind, is the root of our English words ‘man’ and ‘human’. In Latin, influenced by Sanskrit, manus means ‘hand’, from which we get English words such as ‘manual’ – as in manual or hand labor – and ‘manipulate’ – to move or operate by hand. We human beings use our minds and hands together to bring new things into the world, things which otherwise would not exist. Maybe this creative hand-mind partnership lies near the heart of what it means to be human.

Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

1 Comment:

  • By Kim Miller 24 Feb 2015

    What a wonderful essay about one of our most important tools for engaging with the world. Lovely! I hope you keep writing more 🙂

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