Get in the Zen Zone

Hi David,

You probably won’t remember me, but I did come down to visit you in 2010 before deciding on which ‘long course’, and where, I was going to embark on.

However, ever since, despite not attending your course, I have subscribed to all your ‘woody news stuff’: I have been delighted to receive your ‘wisdom’; non more so than the email I am replying to in which you talk about Zen.

As a long time yoga practitioner, I fully understand what you said.  How great to read your comments which show a good insight into another world which few of us really have any idea of, never mind understand.

I now have a good workshop at home and am fully embarked on my ‘retired career’.

Very kind regards,

Chris Bailey Capt. BA retd.

Thank you Chris,

I do remember you. I am delighted the e-mails are of interest.

All the best,


Another woody nooz subscriber also had something to say regarding the Zen newsletter:

I usually read your craftsman mind wanderings with interest. This one tickles my innards with my own resonant musings which I toss up for you. The past couple shop days have begun with very general direction to re-org a section of the shop. I note that one can plan to put this or that here or there in such and such a way. I find that it does not pay to take such plans too far. In the shop, the process is different. I need to shuffle around feeling lost (but moving). I stare at the pieces to be moved. Then I begin to attempt solutions. Many work, some do not work. Then come the adjustments to make it fit. Some of those adjustments include expansion of a skill or re-familiarization with equipment I have rarely or not yet used. This is an opportunity phase that can become a long diversion. The expansion is needed but irritates. I figure the expansion is valuable because it is a development of skill or knowledge that will make a later use much easier. Then comes a settling phase where comfort is restored, order established, …and a new smaller list of to-dos lurks around the edges.

Another process that I recognize is what I call flow. some days begin and end with struggle-mind with push and pulls that irritate. Others are simply a long series of actions that have no particular relation to each other than that they get “done”. I lust for those flow times. I also fear that they are merely distractions from where I really need to push myself. If I listen to myself and carefully remind myself that I am a hobbyist and need to be happy in the doing, then I get lots done regardless of the should-be attitude. Since no-one was a mentor in craftsmanship as I grew from young to older, I am discovering my own secrets. I therefore enjoy hearing others’ musings about the craftmanship process.

David Bannam

Below is the copy from the Zen newsletter:


The more I think about this the more I begin to understand, it’s about Non Directed Focus.

What do I mean by that?

I am coming to get hold of this slippery sucker; the nearer I get to it though, the more it wriggles.

Tennis players talk about “the zone” being in the zone. Able to just do it, to play without conscious thought; striking the ball hard and accurately just there. Serving a tennis ball at over a hundred miles an hour is a complex series of actions; the toss, the reach, the strike the recovery; all to a split second timing. Push it too far and it all falls apart; focus is key. without real hard focus you just play about. Yet too much or too specific a focus and it gets all tight. “Loose as a goose” is how it should be. But tight-ish.

I talk a lot about “Zen” when I am teaching people to do stuff with tools. Workmanship is very meditative, we can go off to work and, blink, it’s coffee time, off to work again, blink it’s lunch. A whole life can pass like that. We musn’t get too specific cause this is one of those paradoxes that always, to me signpost, the “truth”. Where I see a paradox I usually find something that’s going to make a load of sense out of a boatload of conundrums.

Zen gardens have nothing there to see, a few rocks, a bit of gravel. But sit and look and what changes is the way that to you experience those few rocks and the bit of gravel. You see more. Visual experience is enhanced by the place, by the person and by the process. Great Art is a bit like a transmitter you have to be switched on to receive and many of us cannot always find the knob. Try too hard go into “meditative state” and it also slips away.

I teach people to saw using a motorbike analogy. “Imagine you are riding a nice powerful bike, the sun is shining and you are driving along this winding country lane your partner is on the back and you are going quite quick but safe. You approach a series of shallow S-bends you flick the bike left and right with no conscious movement of your body. Sawing down a line is like that”. Hold that saw handle light like a child’s hand, don’t rush the stroke don’t press down, just do it. Watch yourself uncritically, your body will adjust your stance to achieve your goal if you allow it.

The moment we get tense, the second we seek to control, it goes to hell. Like raising a child.

Have a nice woody day



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