The Unhewn Log

I am unworkable.

By that I mean, I have discovered an insurmountable resistance within me to any attempts I may make to improve or change myself. For most of my adult life, I have used coercion, brow-beating, chastisement, and excoriation to shame, cajole and compel myself to perform whatever it was I felt was expected or required of me.

Example of a “dialogue” I would have with myself: “Geez, you should have done this by now! You can’t procrastinate forever, bitch! Get your lazy ass up and do it!” or “My god, how could you forget that / not be aware of that / not see that / not figure that out? You dumbass!” or “You think you can just eat whatever you want? [insult, epithet, insult], better think again!” or “If you don’t do this, you are worthless and an embarrassment.”

Doling out this abuse from myself onto myself, I would spur myself, again and again, into action. I have done this for years —- decades. And it has more or less produced results. I am a person who is known for accomplishing many things in a short amount of time, generally described as ambitious, hardworking and – most of all – busy.

But since my husband died, these methods of self-motivation have lost all efficacy.

Not only the insults and curses, but even gentle suggestions to myself are utterly ignored. “Maybe you should get up early tomorrow?” No. “Ok, tomorrow, you have to get up early.” No. “Tomorrow, get up early or you’ll lose your job.” No. “If you get up early tomorrow you’ll feel good.” No. 

This isn’t exclusive to getting up early: that’s just an example. It applies universally to all actions I arbitrarily try and elicit from myself. Anything based on external motivations (“should”) is absolutely out of the question. The harder I try to control myself, the less capable I am of exacting that control. Some part of me, for better or worse, has decided not to be bullied or shamed – or controlled – into anything it doesn’t already want to do.

A month or so ago, I started to develop a mental image of myself as unmoldable clay or rough stone. No attempts to beautify or improve the shape of things was making a dent. Flummoxed by my own intractability, I resigned myself to being rough-hewn. I simply am this, no better, no worse. I’ll do what I’ll do when I get around to it and not before. I’m this size, this weight, this amount of motivated, this amount of social, and that’s what you get – not more, not less. I’ve been the living embodiment of, “I’ll do it when I’m ready. I’ll get there when I get there,” and no force on earth has been able to impel me to do otherwise.

OSHO said: If you are trying to discipline yourself, you remain schizophrenic, you remain divided. A part of you disciplines you, another part is disciplined by you. So one part becomes the master, and another part becomes the slave… …And there is bound to be conflict in this duality, because in reality you are one, and this is a fiction. Who is trying to rule whom? Who is there to be dominated by whom? There is only one existence inside, one being. To bring any sort of discipline means to divide that unity, and that division is misery, that division is hell.”

I heard of this quote only recently, but it immediately rang a bell somewhere deep within me. I resolved myself to change my internal dialogue (no more “You should…, from now on, I would think in “I will…”) and to give up any designs on self-improvement, self-direction, self-control, self-management, self-bossing…. all of it. To hell with it all. I committed myself to doing simply what I was doing, without hoping for, longing for, or drafting designs for anything better.

So far, it’s going great. I feel centered, relaxed, loosed from an unconscious, suffering tension I always took for granted.

This morning, just as I was searching for a cover image to attach to this blog post, I stumbled across the Daoist (Chinese) concept of Pu (樸 or 朴) which speaks to the uncarvable, unmoldable image I’ve had of myself these past months. (Here, I thought I was original! Ha!) The word itself means “unworked wood; inherent quality; simple” and was an early Daoist metaphor for the natural state of humanity, and relates with the Daoist keyword ziran (literally “self so”) “natural; spontaneous”. (per WikipediaFollowing are some helpful points (also from Wikipedia) in regards to being unhewn:

  • If eternal integrity suffices, You will return to the simplicity of the unhewn log. … When the unhewn log is sawn apart, it is made into tools; When the sage is put to use, he becomes the chief of officials. For Great carving does no cutting. (28, tr. Mair 1990:93)
  • Welch (1957:84) paraphrases the Daodejing relationship among pude “inherent character; inner power”, and wuwei “non-action; non-doing”. Outwardly, one cannot achieve de “until you have erased the aggressive patterns etched by society into your nature. You must return to your natural self, to [pu]. You must discard morality and ambition, for if you keep these you will never be capable of compassion, moderation, and humility… …For, to achieve the outward [pu] you will have to cultivate a [wuwei] of the mind. And when the mind is quiet, [pu] will deepen. It will become a faculty for intuitively sensing the order of the universe—the [Dao] that can be named.”

“Great carving does no cutting”… “Erase the aggressive patterns etched by society into your nature”… “Return to your natural self, to pu.”

This is my way now: accepting naturalness; eating when hungry; sleeping when tired; doing nothing special; accepting what comes; being — in whatever form that takes. I deserve no credit for this. Truly this was my only option. I have simply chosen to accept it.