Why I Need to Use My Hands
I woke up at 6 AM this Sunday to go to work but I would have given anything in the world to instead be…. chopping wood. And calling myself a novice in the art would be putting it too generously.
But it was an unnaturally warm weekend. With great weather, great company, and a great bonfire, the Saturday night ended very late. Bonfires have made a reappearance in my life of late. I like the warmth and closeness it brings within our circle. With the flames casting dancing shadows, the conversations can be intimate. Or other times they are outlandish and far-fetched. Sometimes they are jokes, other times hypotheses. Without fail though, there always comes a time in the late hours where we collectively try to solve our problems and the world’s problems too, all in one sitting.
And on this quiet Sunday morning, as I begin my walk to work on empty streets with sleepy inhabitants, I’m struck by a compelling desire. I don’t want to be inside a building for the next couple of hours; I want to be outside. I don’t want to be behind the screens of information and diagnoses; I want to do something with my hands. As the brisk morning air awakens my face and its cold is pricking at my warm fingertips, I have an odd and overwhelming desire to chop wood.
The uncharacteristic and atypical idea arose from a conversation the night before. With the increased frequency of bonfires we have been having, we vocalized the need to order a full chord of wood. This led to jokes about how we never actually chop our own wood but how a carefully-staged axe could suggest otherwise.
But it made me think, when is the last time I really did something with my hands?
I make coffee with my automatic kettle before I get into my automatic car via my automatic key FOB. I live in a home where most of it can be controlled automatically by apps. I put my clothes into an automatic washer followed by an automatic dryer. At work, I swipe into an automatic time clock and all my work automatically sends itself to where it needs to be.
I think of my father’s hands. A soft-spoken and kind man at heart, but with hands that have done work. Hands that have chopped wood. I remember him always building or fixing something around the house. As a child he one time taught me how to mix concrete. I can still recall the exact smell of the mixture and the grainy consistency of it.
I tend to over-romanticize. It’s what I do. But I have this idea that chopping wood is both cathartic and beautiful – cathartic because of the physical yielding of the axe, beautiful because the fire is going to bring its viewers a little bit closer together.
It strikes me that we tend to not do anything with our hands anymore. I’m not chopping. I’m not building. I’m not creating. I’m not painting, drawing, or molding either. But our hands exemplify such an important sense to us. You can already imagine the grittiness of sand slipping between your fingers and you can feel the squishiness of kneading bread dough as I am typing this sentence.
But what if we changed how we did things? The invention of automatic luxuries was supposed to free us of time constraints. But we don’t necessarily fill that time with better things, like friends and family time or anything that generates a positive impact on our lives, we just hop to the next automatic thing we have to do.
Would we sleep better? Because we would ultimately spend less time staring at screens?
Would we feel more accomplished? More confident to take on tasks that may be unknown territory to us?
Would it force us to slow down? To live life in a slower and more deliberate way?
Could we solve more problems? Take Einstein and his theory of relativity. For many years he worked at a patent office where the job was monotonous and undemanding for his unparalleled intelligence. But with his hands succumbed to the monotony of his duties, it freed his mindset to hypothesize some of his most notable and brilliant breakthroughs. He spoke of this patent office as “a worldly cloister where he hatched his most beautiful ideas”.
What are we capable of if we let our hands do the work instead of putting ourselves on autopilot in our increasingly automatic world? Maybe this is the kind of mindfulness that would be fitting for my life.
Maybe we could solve some of the exact problems that we rattle our brains with around the bonfire. At the very least, I am going to have a lot more piles of wood.
Malinda Meadows is an Ohio native who was letting grief blanket her life
She found healing through traveling and nature. She discovered changes of location led to changes in her mindset. It helped her process grief and forge a new path with greater optimism and happiness. Realizing the benefit of deliberate change, she now leads a more balanced and mindful life inspired by simple changes.
She blogs regularly at malindainthesnow.com to help others find change, however small, outside their box in order to live a happier, healthier life.