What’s the point? It’s what’s left when you take everything else away. that’s the point.
Yesterday I wrote about appreciation. Today I want to add a counterbalance.
There’s a big problem with everything being interesting. I suffer from it a lot. A lack of discrimination. My big problem is being too interested in everything. There simply isn’t enough time. I hoard everything and I end up scattered. How to decide what to focus on?
The art of knapping is knowing what to throw away and what to keep. Done just right it creates something useful, something meaningful, something with a point.
Discarding things is neither profligate or neglectful. In order to know what to take away it’s important to study the grain of the material, understand its structure, the lines of shearing, the balance of the stresses. You have to love something to know where to strike it.
Then, when you know where the point is, you can use it to do something useful. A knife can cut, a pencil can draw, an arrow, once perfectly whittled by the fletcher, can itself be thrown away in order to pierce the target.
That great slinger ‘David’ stood trapped by the weight of an eroding block of marble in a cathedral yard for many years, before Michelangelo came along and dared to release him. Who misses what was lost?
A stone might crack the wrong way and become useless. How much more delicate is one’s own life.
Some people think becoming a hermit is extraordinary and remarkable. For me it’s not misanthropic nor cowardly nor brave. It’s simply the necessary removal of distraction. I’m an ill disciplined person compared to most. I can’t keep New Year’s resolutions. I can’t concentrate in an office. I have many friends who are much more focused and effective than I am. They would have no need for something like this. But I need all the help I can get.
The Buddha tells a story of a man who has been wounded by a poison arrow. Doctors are called but the man says he will not have the arrow removed until he learns whether it was shot by a nobleman or a warrior or a farmer, whether he was tall or short or medium, fair or dark, from near or far, whether the bow was a longbow or a crossbow, the kind of bowstring, the kind of shaft, the kind of tip… the feathers… the composition of the poison, etc., etc.
That man would die, says the Buddha, without ever having learned all these things.
The fact is there is suffering now. It must be addressed immediately.
As T.S. Eliot wrote in the Four Quartets, ‘Time is no healer: the patient is no longer here’.
Are we not distracted if we go round carefully collecting all the slings and arrows to prove the outrageousness of Fortune?
In Buddhist cosmology heaven is a very unfortunate place to arrive. Where there is no immediate perception of suffering there is no urgency, no impetus to action. Only when faced with dire necessity – like an arrow in the ribs – will we act. And even then we may be distracted and die before we help ourselves.
Looking around now at the degradation of all living systems, it seems to me that perhaps it’s time to act. Is there any doubt that humanity needs to be knapped? We could think of the whittling away of cars, packaging, food miles, unnecessary consumption and so on. But austerity can be unattractive. Let’s rather think of what may be revealed. The point.
Here’s a bow without an arrow. It might have been presented once somewhere in the Congo basin along with a quivering bride as a dowry. You could probably find half a dozen of them now gathering dust in some half-stocked central African airport souvenir shop.
There are a matter of days left now before the end of a four week stay of execution that has temporarily protected a few surviving families of gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills and elephants in that Congo basin. The Cameroonian government, in desperate need of money, will sell off another few hundred thousand hectares of rainforest to a logging company unless a competitive alternative scheme can be proposed. Whose is that forest to destroy?
Thirty days. The clock started ticking on June 18th. Bulldozers and chainsaws are standing by, idling. Does that focus the mind?
Perhaps a letter could be fired off. It’s only one tiny little thing. But that’s the point.