Sunday, September 12, 2010

Industrial sleep and building dry stone walls

A dry stone wall is built without mortar. It settles and gives with the weather and the seasons, and may stand for centuries, long after bricks and cement have crumbled. This art of walling is ancient - the Lion Gate of Mycenae is dry stone and there are remains of dry stone walls 4,000 years old in Ireland- and you can see its products all over Europe and New England. There aren't many full-stone dry wallers left, but Steven Allen, a Yorkshireman, is determined to keep the art alive. He's been fitting stones together since his teens, often seven days a week, and holds the title of the world's champion dry stone waller.

Michale Finkel watched him compete with other dry stone wallers on the Yorkshire moors, and in a wonderful article for The Atlantic ("Someone there is who loves a wall", May, 2000) Finkel noted what seemed to give Allen the edge over the competition. While others got themselves into a lather of sweat, willing themselves to win, Allen seemed to work with a sense of emerging pattern.

He'd stand stock-still for a moment and stare at his wall with a calculating look on his face. Then he would swiftly turn around and bend down and select a stone. He'd twist it and jiggle it and flip it over and back, as if fiddling with prayer beads. Then he'd pick up his hammer, hold the stone to his thigh, and chip off pieces with a few sharp taps.

A quality that set Allen apart from wallers, Finkel noticed, was "his feel for the hidden seems snaking along the rock." When he hammered a rock, "it invariably fractured along a plane as smooth as a sail." When he picked a stone to fill the gap between others, the chosen rock "would literally click into place, wedged between its neighbors as tightly and neatly as if Allen were building with Lego bricks."

In Crossing the Unknown Sea David Whyte seizes on this, correctly and elegantly, as an exemplary case of how good work gets done. The key is “a felt perception of the larger pattern” combined with “a restful yet attentive presence in the midst of our work” and the ability to draw on “some source of energy other than our constant applications of effort and will.” “If we attempt to engage the will continually, it exhausts us and prevents us from creating something with a pattern that endures.”

I've been working in this mode, day and night, since I returned from teaching on Cortes Island in a seven-stage journey on Labor Day (September 6th). Fitting together drafts for my new book, on Active Dreaming for conscious living and community, I've felt like a dry stone waller judging the shape and heft of the next rock, seeking the right smaller stone to plug a gap, feeling out the hidden seam that will cause a rock to split exactly right under the fall of the hammer, deciding where to leave a small hole - which my Scots ancestors called a smoot - to let sheep pass. I've been at this literally all the time, around quick naps (never more than 2 hours) that I have come to call industrial sleeps. I had promised my editor to deliver the new book today, and though the deadline was fierce, I never felt rushed or pressured. I hit the SEND button at 7AM today, East Coast time.


Unknown said...

Congratulations! So now how long will you sleep? And what will you dream?

Savannah said...

What a wonderfully earthy analogy. Congratulations on finishing the book! I can't wait to read it, and may it stand up like a dry stone bridge to dream travelers for many seasons and centuries!

Carol Davis said...

Oh joy! Congratulations!

Will and effort provide a certain energy but, clearly, not enough energy for an emerging creation. I think will and effort alone keep us outside. The feel for the hidden snaking along the rocks, as well as the ability to avail oneself of a source of energy that is other than will and effort, allow us to move into a flow that is no longer outside the thing trying to figure it out but is rather in the passion, the vision with increasing access to the potential elements that can contribute to the emerging creation. It has a certain timelessness. It seems to me that will and effort need heart and passion and vision and a good connection with the Moreness.

You know all of this and more very well Robert. Thank you Robert. I so look forward to reading this much needed book for our communities and for those to come.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I loved this post, the idea of letting the larger patterns emerge, instead of willing them to emerge. It's like playing in a jazz group.

nina said...
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Irène said...

I've been thinking a lot about community service and one's responsability to it. I feel a strong desire to give back some of what I've received "for free" and intuitively feel some king of space growing within me; a space where I can do that.

Thanks Robert, for maintaining your blogs during periods when your efforts and attention are expected elsewhere.

Unknown said...

"Letting the larger patterns emerge" - inspiration, by its other name.

Thanks for transporting to another time and place.

Congratulations on your book.

Unknown said...

sculpting, building, choosing, patterning - effortless arranging... I have a feeling this book will lay (yet another) important foundation for travelers yearning to take each step closer to their dreams.... THANK YOU!

Robert Moss said...

Thank you all for your blessings and cheering thoughts.

Krista - I'm slowly re-educating my body this week. The first couple of nights after finishing the new book, I not only woke evefry two hours but (as has been my pattern for many weeks) found my engine thrumming, reading to get down to 6 or 7 solid hours of writing & editing right away. I've been gently coaxing it to relax, to accept another sleep period, and to do nothing much this week except lead a marvelously intensive 5-day retreat titled "Dreamgates: A JOurney to the Multidimensional Self", swim a mile or two, and - very gently - rough out some ideas for a nother book and an importanyt new lecture I'll give next week.

My dreaming has been quite active, and happy. I've been writing only short reports, though.

Valerie said...

Congratulations . I can't wait for the new book !! Hope you get some rest now !!

Wanda Burch said...

I love dry stone walls. I have experienced the pleasure of watching someone jack up a building and lay a dry stone foundation for a small 19th century building on my property. Amd, perhaps more importantly, I re-lay a small deteriorating stone garden wall several years ago. I loved selecting and visualizing among the stones which ones would best fit and balance in which spaces. The wall is not perfect but it has value and has remained in place. Not a bad metaphor.