The Uncarved Block
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Not long ago, I was returning to the ranch after the 45 minute trip back from the big city (pop. 3,000) when, just at 'our' final gate, I noticed several perfect circles in the grass in the field nearby. These were about ten feet across and were created, not by the absence of grass, but by the outline of an especially abundant and apparently well-fertilized presence of one kind of grass. An alien landing zone? No, probably the footprint of native american dwellings from hundreds of years ago. Close by is a little knoll where many artifacts have been found.
The following day I went to investigate, but apart from what I have already described, I found nothing new there. Perhaps when the grass has died in the summer heat I will look again.
But I did find something special not far away. It was as a piece of a broken branch, about an inch in diameter and about 6 inches long with a gall, a round growth caused by insects, at one end. I thought it interesting and put in my pocket to look at more closely later.
'Back at the ranch house' I put on my reading glasses and looked at it more closely. And felt a chill. It bore an incredible resemblance to a phallus from one angle and a phallus and 'balls' from another. At first, I thought it had been carved, that it was a fetish of the very people who had once lived right there, and thus the chill. But on closer examination, and despite what almost appears to be knife marks (for it is old, weathered, and grainy), I have decided it is 'simply' a work of nature. Though doubts still linger.
All this is a long-winded introduction to the Taoist symbol of the 'uncarved block'. This is what nature produces, what is spontaneously and naturally so. Something simply wonderful. And it is to this that the philosophical Taoist wishes to 'return'. Liezi, after his crisis experience of realizing that he had been diligently striving to be 'someone spiritual', that he had been 'carving his block', let go of the self he wished to transform and instead let it emerge from its inexplicable rootedness in Mystery.
Zhuangzi summarizes: "In this way, wholeheartedly embody the endless and roam where there is no sign, fully realize whatever is received from Heaven, but without thinking anything has been gained thereby. It is just being empty, nothing more." (Zhuangzi, 7:13; B. Ziporyn) It's amazing what Nature can do in us — without our help.
I have passed along this objet trouve to a friend as a wedding gift. An uncarved cock. It somehow seems appropriate.
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.