Gaze upon a shepherdess standing still under a tree in the savanna, chin on her stick, hearing the buzz of insects in the grass, the mewling of the lambs and listening for the big cats, as much ‘in’ the moment as anyone can be.
Watch a carpenter planing a plank, feeling the resistance of the wood grain to the blade, the whoosh whoosh as the curling wood falls away, totally engrossed in his work.
Admire a glass smith blowing a vase by the glowing furnace, turning the tube and shaping the gleaming liquid, the epitome of concentration.
Imagine yourself a potter, farmer, hunter, miner, mason, weaver or any of myriad other workers over the millennia, your form intersecting with nature to produce useful or beautiful things.
From a career past, I remember the pleasure and satisfaction in taking apart an oil pump to fix a sleeve, putting it back together and seeing it work again.
That old way of using our bodies directly in our surroundings kept us in touch with nature, with the elements. Everyone worked like that. It was manual but not menial. It too needed knowledge, skill and application. Even the aristocracy fenced or worked rifles or rode horses. It kept us awake and alive. It kept us from mischief, depression and ennui. Physical work calmed and steadied us. We ate well and slept soundly.
Now for ever-growing numbers, the most common way of working is to use our minds more than our bodies. Office activity occupies our sight and mind but doesn’t make use of our entire hands, arms, shoulders, back or legs for anything tactile. Most of us don’t use our smell, hearing or taste in our occupation. Our eyes and brains are busy and maybe our fingertips, but the rest of our being that evolved to interact with nature is sedentary.
Our brains are too active, and our bodies too little. We speak but do not listen. We see but do not observe. Attention darts from call to mobile screen to laptop to projection. We move about but don’t feel we get anywhere. We feel tired but can’t sleep. We eat lots and suffer even more.
We live better and better but feel more and more dead.
So we turn to yoga and meditation and tai chi and mindfulness exercises, to the gym and sports and hobbies.
But I know I will still genuinely enjoy working with my entire hands — fingers, palms and wrists, with my body straining in support. And using my mind to improve what my body does, closer to nature’s design. Not the other way around.
Sadly, there’s no going back to the old corporeal occupations. We must do our best with the paltry substitutes that provide the mind-into-body immersion we need to have a healthy soul.
Shashi on LinkedIn