Whittling is a subtractive process, meaning you start with a block of wood and remove some bits until you arrive at the shape you want. Whereas carpentry is additive: you keep adding boards until you arrive at the final structure. Carpentry also has a jigsaw-puzzle aspect, where pieces have to fit together just-right. I never bothered to contemplate the difference before, but the other day I noticed that I’m a particular type of woodworker.
I had split a block of wood into tiny planks with the idea that I’d assemble them into a small box — a carpentry project. But I sat there staring at the boards, deciding on how to assemble them. Carpentry is about precise cuts with saws and lots of sawdust — and that’s just not my style. I’m a knife guy — I like cutting into wood and having curls drop off. For instance, I already have a small box made from a block of wood that I simply hollowed-out with a knife and chisel.
So instead of piecing those tiny planks together, I’ve been using them as starting-points for carved pendants. It turns out that I’m into subtractive art, not additive — I wasn’t quite aware of the distinction before. And it’s true: when faced with a blank canvas, I don’t know where to begin — my mind is equally blank. But when presented with a work-in-progress, I can certainly tell you what doesn’t belong. It’s basically a form of criticism: “Nope, that doesn’t look right! Remove it!”. You just keep pecking away until there’s nothing left to criticize.
And this serves as a metaphor for life. If presented with the idea that life is a blank-canvas, I’m frozen with indecision. I don’t know how to proceed — I need something to evaluate and judge. BUT, this criticism needs to be applied with the intent of creating a work-of-art. I had been criticizing and stopping there — I wasn’t actually cutting anything out. Therefore I always see the same bits that don’t belong, every single day.
So instead of looking for what I should add into my life, I should be evaluating what I already have, then actively removing the bits that don’t belong i.e. whittling my life into a work of art. I had been trying an additive approach, which simply didn’t suit me AND I had neglected to remove the bits that didn’t fit. For example, my tendency for general-negativity is something that needs to be sliced away — and my knife in this context is mental-discipline.
I’ve been whittling a lot lately. One observation is this: I can place the sharp-edge of my knife against my finger and nothing happens. There’s no slice, no pain, no blood, no nothing. I would need to apply sufficient force for a cut to occur. In order to generate that force, I would need to put some weight behind it or add some speed. A light, slow touch just won’t do anything significant.
Therefore, if you keep your hand’s movement soft and steady, letting the blade do the work, you can’t cut yourself. This is why a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. A dull blade requires increased pressure to cut, giving it the potential to release its momentum if the wood suddenly gives-way while you’re pushing. Whereas a sharp knife effortlessly glides through the wood at low-speed. This is why stropping the knife on a regular basis is so important, as it makes for a razor-sharp edge.
In other words, the knife can’t cut me, only I can cut myself through the misapplication of force. Rushing and straining against the grain is the pathway to pain. That sounds like a metaphor for life doesn’t it? And it’s true: how easy it is to hurt ourselves when we struggle, urgently pushing against some obstacle until we build-up a dangerous momentum. But instead of all that strife, we should let the blade do the work, easily cleaving its way through the grain.
And what that means is this: sharpen your knife and gently guide it. How? It’s the same answer that’s been given since time immemorial: MENTAL DISCIPLINE!!! When your thoughts no longer run rampant, you no longer have the urge to erratically hack and attack your way through life. You simply see the path before you and casually proceed upon it. But as sharpening a blade takes time and practice, sharpening the mind takes a great investment too — yet it’s the only way to escape the pain. So be the Buddha, sharpen the mind and end your suffering.
I’ve been watching my mind a lot lately, you might call it the practice of mindfulness. Something I’ve been noticing, is my mind’s tendency to setup straw-men to fight against. It’s constantly offering me opponents to engage with — but I’m trying not to take the bait. It turns out that I’m very belligerent and always looking to battle, therefore my mind dutifully presents material that excites me. But I don’t want to consume that type of entertainment anymore, it’s too intense, so I’m refusing to participate.
There’s literally a new matchup every ten minutes. My mind brings in people from my past, from shows I’ve been watching, or from wherever — then conjures reasons for me to argue. But thanks to mindfulness, I’m noticing the invitation and declining. While it’s captivating and thrilling to wage war, it’s time for me to move-on from low-quality forms of entertainment. I want something a bit more refined.
That’s probably why I’ve been wrapped-up in woodworking lately. I love tools — and using them to shape wood is an enjoyably wholesome pastime. But boy, it takes constant effort to keep my mind clear during whittling sessions — it’s so inclined to wander where I don’t want it to go. But really, that’s a great opportunity to practice mental discipline — now whenever I’m whittling, I’m closely monitoring my mind and reining it in.
If I’m truly done with the drama, discipline is the practice I must perform to achieve the tranquility I seek. It’s such a silly way to live: perpetually attacking imagined enemies around every corner. It’s the junk-food version of existence. Now is the time for true nourishment, a life filled with cherished relationships and delightful activities — engaging with the best of what life has to offer. This is the boss-battle I must overcome: lay down my sword and stop struggling against a fictional foe.
To make the wax/oil coating, I heated walnut oil over a candle and dropped in some beeswax shavings. When it cooled, it was like lip-balm, so I dipped my finger in and rubbed the wood (beeswax is too hard on its own). I buffed it with a cotton cloth, although I’m not sure that did anything. The walnut oil is straight from the supermarket’s oil section. The reason I’m trying walnut oil as a finish is because it has the potential to dry over time (in a good way) and act as a better coating than something that remains oily (we’ll see).
The tenets of a happy life have been shoved into my face for many years now. Whether it’s books or videos or conversations or inspirational thoughts from my own mind, I’ve been seeing them again and again. This 8-year-old blog is a testament to that, as it contains the same ideas said in different words over and over. But, it turns out that you actually need to put those principles into practice for them to work. Who knew!? I was under the assumption that you simply realized them, then went back to whatever you were doing. NOPE! That’s like realizing something’s poisonous and eating it anyway. You actually need to stop consuming the poisonous item!
So in that sense, I’ve proven that freewill IS an actual thing. It IS within my power to derail my experience here on Earth — and I’ve certainly done so by not applying mental discipline. By allowing my mind to run rampant, I’ve found myself constantly tossed by the turbulence such a condition creates. Obviously I’m bored and lazy and a bit of a masochist or else I wouldn’t allow such a condition to take place, right? But I’m finally so sick of the mess, that I’m willing to do the work it’ll take to keep things tidy.
A turbulent mind creates a turbulent world whereas a peaceful world begins with a peaceful mind. Mental discipline is the practice of maintaining awareness. That awareness allows you to monitor your thoughts and feelings and respond appropriately by adjusting your focus. And essentially, you want to focus on whatever evokes delight and encourages the enjoyment of life. Mental discipline also includes routines that help in the process of maintaining awareness as well as practices that encourage appreciation.
No matter what you’re provided, you need discipline to cultivate the appreciation necessary to enjoy it. Nothing will satisfy unless you have a well-developed sense of appreciation — and the only way to get it, is through mental discipline. Despite any misgivings you may have, you have to force yourself to trust in the benevolence of life. No matter how dank and dour you feel, you have to strive towards a lighthearted disposition. The only thing between you and the best life possible, is an appreciative attitude maintained by continual practice.
Practice makes improvement, as they say. Set hourly chimes, schedule meditation, and persistently strive to remove focus from thoughts throughout each moment of the day. Once you make mental discipline a full-time job, there’s no excuses to give, no letting the mind run wild — the buck stops here and it’s your responsibility to keep it in line. The realization of all this is only the first step — now you must actually DO it. So take the reins and ride that mind to victory! HEEYAA!
The name of this blog is Whittlin’ Rich yet I haven’t done a lot of whittling. Yes I’ve whittled wood before, but not much. So for whatever reason, I recently took up whittling as a hobby. Here’s a picture displaying my many small projects and the primary tools I’ve been using.
I use basswood since it’s the recommended wood-of-choice for carving. For knives, I use a Morakniv 120 and 122, a BeaverCraft C1M and C2 as well as the tiny C15 — and of course there’s my strop with some polishing compound rubbed into the leather. To carve effectively, you need to strop your blades at the end of each whittlin’ day, in my opinion.
Just to provide some textual detail as to what’s in the picture: there’s a bunch of faces, some full-body figurines made from 1″x 1″ x 6″ blocks (not shown: one of the figurines has another figurine on its back), a small spoon, a carved-out box, my name carved into a block, a minature dumbbell, a wooden knife, an anvil and hammer, a sword, a sword’s handle, and a pine tree. Nothing’s officially “done” since I might go back to add details over time.
It’s been an enjoyable pastime over the last 10 weeks. Lately I’ve been using it as a meditation of sorts, as a way to keep an eye on my thoughts. While whittling, my mind tends to drift down random tangents about whatever so I’m trying to remove focus from those thoughts and remain focused on right-now i.e. whittling.