The Lost Art of Whittling

We were out for a beautiful hike yesterday.  As we walked down a sandy path towards the sound of a rushing creek, we were chatting with the kids. During one of our conversations, I reminded my step-son about the importance of mindfulness in every day activities. Like most kids, he was talking about what he wanted to do once we got home. The hike had only started and he was thinking about what he was going to be doing in two hours.

The weather was perfect. The air smelled of pine trees, and the sound of the rushing creek was invigorating. I guided my step-son to take notice of the environment and keep his mind on present reality. Like a typical educator, I couldn’t leave it at that; I kept on with the lesson – poor kid. “It is like whittling wood. ” I said, ” When you whittle wood,  it is a meditative in that  your mind is present on the act of whittling, and is nowhere else. The only moment you can live in is the present, so pay attention to this moment and whittle your wood.”

He politely listened to another of my self-indulgent pontifications, and when I inhaled to reload for more rhetoric, he asked, “what is whittling?”

RIGHT! It hit me that kids don’t whittle anymore (unless there is a whittling App). When I was a kid,  I spent countless hours with my friends or cousins with a knife and a piece of wood just slicing off pieces of wood for no real purpose other than to whittle. We might chat as we whittled, but as I think back, it was perfectly mindful. When I was done whittling, I never thought ahead about when I would whittle again – it just happened.

The art of whittling was passed down through generations. I watched my dad occasionally whittle and I imagine he watched his father or uncles do it as well. I can imagine what kinds of stories were told around a campfire while people whittled away. It seems that I may be part of the last generation who learned to whittle. It is all but gone.

When we got home from the hike, my step-son hurried into the house and, much to my delight, chose to forgo Mine Craft and instead picked up a walking stick he had found days earlier. He started to shape it with sandpaper. It was a form of whittling and, you know what, he sat outside in the sun for three hours shaping his walking stick. Not once did he talk about what he wanted to do later or what he did in the past – he was perfectly mindful for those three hours.

I really can take no credit for him whittling and I realize it had nothing to do with my bloated lesson during the hike. You see, I found out later that what he was looking forward to doing when we got home was…shaping wood. I guess I should have listened before providing another moot lecture.

On this Mother’s Day I plan to “whittle some time away” talking to my mom.

 Happy Mother’s Day!



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