Friday, February 11, 2011

Real Life Tao - Knock on Wood

Despite the many physical challenges I face day in and day out, one of my favorite outside activities remains splitting firewood. Though we do not rely on wood as our sole source of heat -- we have electric baseboard heaters -- keeping a fire going in the fireplace from late autumn - early spring helps to keep down our electric bill; a good think for a generally cash-strapped family.

Besides the knowledge that I am helping to provide for one family need, I enjoy chopping wood because it is very Taoist. If the blade of the ax doesn't land in the sweet spot, the wood often doesn't split cleanly or at all. So, being a good splitter means taking the time to read the grain of the wood and learning to discern where that sweet spot lies in each piece.

Needless to say, I don't always read each block of wood successfully. Sometimes I think I have it all figured out and then, when the blade meets the wood, I am shocked to find out I misread the grain. At other times, while I have read the grain correctly, the problem I encounter is that I incorrectly factored the amount of force needed to split the piece. The wood cracks in the correct place, but the ax head becomes stuck as the wood does not crack all the way through.

For me, it is a great feeling when I am able to synthesize all the variables, so that the blade of the ax goes through the piece of wood like a knife goes through butter. I have come to learn that force generally is not the most important variable; if the wood is struck in the right spot, a lot less force is needed to complete the job!

The lessons I have learned from splitting wood have aided me in my overall life. These lessons go hand-in-hand with the general Taoist adage of learning to go with the flow.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

1 comment:

  1. I also love splitting wood. Makes me think more of Thoreau, but to each their own.

    And yeah, if you hit it right, all you really need to be doing is guiding the axe as it falls, rather than muscling it down. Gravity does the work. Same with golf swings, actually, Tiger Woods notwithstanding.


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