Below the Surface of What We See


It is not the first time he has whispered beautiful as our co-creation takes further shape.  His respect and admiration for grains of wood often take my breath away.   Ever like that maestro of a beautiful orchestra he is in his mastery.   I, the fortunate student learning to play the music of a lathe and cutting tools as he teaches his expertise.

It is not the first time I’ve wrote about my teacher, aka, my friend teaching me how to turn blocks of wood into shapes.    My leadership philosophy paper when earning my MA shared the story of the bowl my teacher taught me to make.

I the student who had never worked with a lathe and special wood-carving tools would soon learn from a wise teacher how to turn a square block of wood into a work of art.   

With an open mind, open heart, and open will I began creating a wooden bowl.  With each turn of the lathe, my hand manually guided the cutting tool; as the natural grains of wood initially hidden began to appear, WK was teaching me through his failing physical eyesight how to see and see again and even more, how to feel the grains of wood becoming smoother.  It was like watching a maestro listening to the finest piece of classical music watching WK gently touch the bowl as it formed.   When my cutting tool nicked the bottom of the bowl, WK wisely said “you can’t hurt wood.  No matter what you do to it, it will remain beautiful”.

When WK would gently guide me to slow down in my cutting and observe the bowl as it formed…WK was also reminding me of what I can sometimes forget – it is not a rush to the destination. 

In the noise of the lathe, and our silence as we both watched this bowl take shape, I am reminded of the power of true authentic moves, being fully present, and how hearts can communicate volumes without words.  I am reminded of sacred exchange with another.

Nearly a year later and my friend and bowl making are still teaching me.   This time I am reminded of the importance of looking past what we initially see.    We were preparing to make a nutcracker using a piece of wood that has started to ever so slightly deteriorate.    I had fallen in love with streaks of this deterioration running through the wood’s grains.   True to a wise master teacher who lets a student learn hands-on even if his expertise knows there are better woods to use, my friend supported the piece of wood I was about to choose.

As we began cutting, the softness of this wood’s interior remained hidden from sight.  Rough edges and surfaces continually challenged if the choice I made had been right.   In his gentle wisdom, my friend would highlight what sanding might not be able to make smooth.    That he was doubtful of what we could create he kept hidden from view.    I would take thinner cuts, moving the tool at a snail’s pace; the gentler I was, the smoother the surface of the nutcracker taking shape.

This “softer wood” coupled with its deterioration has a tendency not to look as nice as the wood of a walnut or a cherry.    This expertise my wise teacher was sharing with me.    Something about this “not ideal” or “less than” wood was whispering there is more to me beneath what you see.    Step by step, cut by cut, we continued forming the nutcracker in the lathe.   I am not sure which was more fun – what we had created or my friend’s smile that together we had formed a shape he had never made.

Then one-twenty grit, one-fifty grit, followed by one-eighty I sanded this work of art.   Once again, like a maestro standing before his orchestra, my teacher spoke from his heart.  Beautiful he softly said as his eyes reflected that deepest admiration for what can be created with a block of wood, cutting tools, sandpaper and…belief.   That behind the rough exterior of this wood was a most breathtaking finish for all to see.

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