Whittling Souls

A work in progress, just like me.
When we want someone to hear something really important, we ask for silence.  It’s the time to look away from the phone, shut off the TV, remove the headphones, stop talking, and LISTEN.  It’s time to focus.  I feel very strongly that 2020 is calling upon each of us to do that right now.

Many of us are currently feeling pulled in all directions.  The political climate in this country is very toxic, untruths abound, and Americans are being convinced to turn their backs and justify the oppression and pain of other human beings.  People are listening to ranting lunatics on YouTube rather than making the minimal effort to READ.  Reading requires FOCUS and somewhere among the tweets, posts, and instant gratification of video, we have lost our collective ability to focus.  It’s exhausting and demoralizing. It occurred to me that it may be easier to get through to someone who doesn’t like to read by sharing a video.  But I digress.

This morning, I attended church.  I was the only human in attendance, along with my sage bundle, some light reading of a spiritual nature, a buck knife, and a piece of driftwood.  No cell phone, no human-made music, just silence.  At least at first.  Once I stilled my distractions, and began to focus and listen, I was serenaded by soft wind chimes, the buzz of busy insects, a light breeze, some birds I couldn’t identify, a crow and a tiny tree frog who only croaked once.  I was joined by some hummingbirds who hovered curiously nearby.  I had my bare feet on the ground and felt peaceful and calm.  I wished I could stay all day, as it was a great service.  At the end, I sat in silence, whittling a piece of driftwood until I got too warm, and duty called in the house.

COVID19 has forced me, in ways I had not anticipated, to LISTEN.  It has forced me to re-evaluate priorities and explore my spirituality in much deeper ways that I would have imagined a year ago.  I realize I have used the company of other humans to avoid having to be silent and think.  There was a time I saw isolation as a bad thing.  I’m not saying isolation is for everyone, but it’s helped me immensely.  It also got me whittling.

In the beginning of July, I was at the beach in my usual “secret” spot where I never have to run into anyone else.  The kids and I were walking along the sand looking at rocks and shells.  I picked up a piece of driftwood and suddenly envisioned it carved into a shape.  I remembered my dad showing me how to whittle wood as a little kid, a memory I had totally forgotten.  I came home, looking for a knife, and I was hooked.  Since then, the floor around my work-from-home station is often littered with shavings, which I vacuum up between meetings.  I realize that whittling is as simple as cutting away the parts that don’t make sense for what you’re trying to create.  I’m not that great at it yet, but it brings me peace.  I don’t generally sit down and bust through a piece in one sitting; it’s more meditative.  I’ll put it down, and pick it up later, and whittle a little more, and watch it slowly improve.  Sometimes a chunk will come off that I didn’t mean to cut, and I must figure out how to be flexible and make it work.  Sometimes I will set something down, come back the next day and see something that is so obvious, I don’t know how I missed it the day before.  Seeing it with fresh eyes gives new perspective.  Whittling takes patience but it also takes focus.  At least if you want to keep all your fingers.  You’ll notice little details in the wood, shapes and grooves and all the little flaws and things that make it unique.  I might start whittling one thing, then realize it was never meant to be what I originally thought, so I change course.

I am now whittling my soul, too.  I realized that this morning during church.  I am carving away the pieces that don’t fit anymore for my vision of my soul.  I’m a work in progress, and I do a little every day. If I’m honest with myself, and if my silent focus means anything at all, it means confronting those things in my life that need to be whittled away, so I can be my true self. 

That was my sermon this morning. 

So, what does this all mean?  For me, it means that I need to examine my soul daily and create practices based in silence that remove distractions and allow me to listen.  While I’m hearing birds and chimes around me, I’m also listening to my own heartbeat, my own breathing.  I’m listening to the thoughts that enter my head, and I’m taking time to assess them and determine what helps my soul and what needs to be whittled away.

It’s a hard process. I’m a very stubborn person with strong opinions and I don’t expect that part of me to go away anytime soon.  I’ve often been hobbled by anxiety produced by perfectionism, both in wood whittling, and in soul whittling.  However, COVID has shown me the necessity, for the sake of my soul, to come from a place of love for myself and others.  I’m still going to get mad.  I’m still going to have strong feelings.  But I’m also assessing the sources of those feelings, and whether they are toxic or needed.  I’m going to be whittling my list of Facebook groups and friends: not to eliminate people I disagree with, but to eliminate people who are unkind or spread toxicity.  To keep that negative energy would be like taking something I’ve carefully whittled and dipping it in tar.  Our souls deserve at least the same consideration as a piece of wood, and I’m going to be selective in what I expose mine to.  I want to learn from people who have the best interests of humanity at heart.

I was already dreading the end of summer as I sat outside this morning.  It’s been the strangest, yet perhaps most important, summer of my life.  How am I going to sit in the morning sunshine once the rains start?  What will even happen in the autumn anyway?  These morning times are sacred to me and it’s difficult to find that silence and connection in the house.  Guess I better buy some raingear.  Or maybe I’ll go to my room, close the door, open the window and listen to the rain sounds.  I’ll find a way.  It’s now part of who I want to become.

2020 has brought us so many unknowns this year, and for me the key has been to embrace them as a blessing.  It’s forced society to stop and take a breath. It’s forced us to be creative and think outside the box to find new ways to meet old needs.  Fresh ideas are finally being heard.  The Black Lives Matter protests, as painful as they have been, have awakened many people to the realities faced by our Black brothers and sisters, and created a strong force for some long overdue systems change.  Athletes are now kneeling en masse for the national anthem, in deep solidarity with team officials and many fans.  People are waking up.  We are whittling.

America must continue whittling.  Let some new ideas take shape, carve away old structures that harm, or at least don’t help.  Make new connections and acknowledge each other’s humanity.  We have a lot to learn from each other.  It’s important to mention that an untouched piece of driftwood is beautiful.  So is an un-whittled soul.  We are created in love and beauty and can choose to create whatever we decide to be.  I’m not suggesting souls aren’t fine just the way they are; this is just what works for me and a way to evolve.

2020 is the year I started meditating daily.  The year I learned more about who I am and why I’m here.  The year I started going outside more.  The year I learned to truly value silence and mindfulness.  The year I was forced to physically avoid other people and had to find new ways to connect, and suddenly discovered much higher connections.  And the year I began to whittle. 


  1. You are such an eloquent writer. Your ability to express yourself is mind boggling. Love you tons my friend

  2. Stanford psychiatrist Irvin Yalom suggests that we re-trivialize the trivial to break out of our day-to-day deadening routines and grudges, and focus upon what is important right in front of us. This year has swept us into a whirlwind of medical fright, economic uncertainty, and long-needed racial justice. In our need to shape our own equanimity amid these dangers, we all must find a way to make sense of it all -- and you have more than lived up to that challenge by rediscovering all there is to be a Carver!

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  4. I love it how, a chunk would come off and it wasn't meant to. And then you have to adapt to it and be flexible and make it work. That's how most of the things work in life.

  5. What a wonderful metaphor for personal, spiritual, and societal transformation. I really related to the sentiment of "I realize I have used the company of other humans to avoid having to be silent and think". I've realized how many distractions I had and even continue to have that make it hard for me to "whittle".


Father's Day

I spent this last Father’s Day in silent, burning rage at my dad, and it’s taken me three months to sort it out enough to write.