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“Be more careful”

Mantra image for "Be more careful"

As a young carpenter I witnessed a number of traumas to fellow workers.

In the day-to-day cutting and shaping of materials, part of earning your journeymen’s status is by learning how NOT to hurt yourselves or your compadre. Eventually, your thumbs learn to stay out-of-the-way of the hammer.

During this period I became quite nervous about using the circular saw. Perhaps it was witnessing a carpenter cut into his thigh while we built a deck together. It wasn’t a terribly deep cut but the blood and the tense trip to the hospital imprinted a fear that kept me from being relaxed with the saw in hand. There is a definite relationship between safety/awareness and ease/assurance of tool use.

Around the same time I participated in a meditation retreat with Amrit Desi, a yoga master, at Wainwright House in Rye, New York. It was a three-day affair with lots of sitting and breathing and chanting. On Sunday during the final Q&A, I brought up my growing dis-ease with the saw. Amrit asked me to see him afterward and he offered me a simple mantra to say before I began work each day. My mantra was “Be more careful” – said three times, one on each in-breath.

Mantras are awareness-focusing sound harmonies encapsulating specific vibrational meaning. Think of it as a form of self-hypnosis. Focusing on my mantra began to set a field of care around my working world.

This awareness eventually extended throughout my life, as when instructing my children on how to drive I would coach them to look “around the curve” – to literally send their mind ahead to search out possible oncoming traffic, making intuitive adjustments in speed and course.

Familiar adages convey knowledge

Sayings such as “Timing is everything” or “Be in the right place at the right time” or, as my grandmother used to say while darning socks “A stitch in time saves nine.” In the carpenter’s world we say “There is nothing more dangerous than a dull tool.” You don’t want to learn this the hard way, believe me.

The word “destiny” carries way too much accumulated baggage. It implies that we live in a pre-determined world where somewhere down the road, the timeline, or around the curve … we “might meet our fate.” I believe we create our destiny through the choices we make – based on what we know in the moment – and whether we are listening to our inner guidance. We are always receiving a lot more information about what is happening around us than we process logically.

Being careful taught me to stop and reset and listen. It helped me learn to trust my instincts in all my endeavors.

There are no accidents

In Dan Millman’s wonderful part-fiction, part-autobiographical book, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” Dan becomes a reluctant student of Socrates, a guru in the guise of an enigmatic auto mechanic. Socrates offers Dan the opportunity to experience a different, more empowering way of living. But Dan impatient, overly confident, young and brash. He eventually pushes himself to the literal breaking point – resulting in a serious motorcycle collision.

The accident stopped Dan’s world. He had been a champion gymnast – now Dan had to put the pieces of his shattered self back together.

At one point, Socrates and Dan are walking through the beautiful Berkeley campus. Dan is pissed off, resisting a latent but potent lesson Socrates has laid before him. Socrates challenges:

“Look at this world. What is right before your eyes? What do you see?”

Dan (the punk) sees an average, boring scenario of people hanging out on the campus lawn. His surly reply:

“There’s nothing going on.”

Socrates, knows different. “Timing is everything.” Suddenly, realization strikes as Dan zeros in with laser intensity to the intimate, interpersonal realities … the tragedies/elations/confrontations that are transpiring between the people all around him … and suddenly he understands for the first time that

“There is never nothing going on.”

The beauty, the pathos. An enlightened moment. Young couples arguing or embracing, the sounds of the birds, children playing. A much more profound and electric world than he had perceived before.

By paying careful attention

– not rushing the cut, so to speak, we center ourselves in the moment by making the most of its potential.

And we don’t waste blood or good wood either.