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Merton's The Way of Chuang Tzu

When the Shoe Fits

I could probably spend weeks discussing Merton’s Chuang Tzu, but I’m going to end the discussion for now with another short poem that really appeals to me.

WHEN THE SHOE FITS

Ch’ui the draftsman
Could draw more perfect circles freehand
Than with a compass.
His fingers brought forth
Spontaneous forms from nowhere. His mind
Was meanwhile free and without concern
With what he was doing.
No application was needed
His mind was perfectly simple
And knew no obstacle.
So, when the shoe fits
The foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits
The belly is forgotten,
When the heart is right
“For” and “against” are forgotten.
No drives, no compulsions,
No needs, no attractions:
Then your affairs
Are under control.
You are a free man.
Easy is right. Begin right
And you are easy.
Continue easy and you are right.
The right way to go easy
Is to forget the right way
And forget that the going is easy.

If I’d had another lifetime, or two, I would have loved to be a woodworker, a craftsman. I did devote several years to woodworking and managed to become skilled in some aspects, at least skilled for someone with no official training. Though I never came close to attaining the mastery of “Ch’ui the draftsman” at times I felt like I had mastered particular tools. I was particularly fond of hand planes and came to prefer those to sandpaper because they produced a superior finish, especially when followed by a hand scraper. I stayed with woodworking for many years because it became a form of meditation, a physical escape from abstract ideas where my mind would become free, without concerns.

I often wished the rest of my life had been as free and without concerns, but it never seemed to be. Much of my life the “rules” have seemed to fit too tightly, resulting in blisters and corns. Perhaps only lately, since I have retired and shed all ambitions have I felt free, without concerns. Finally, my heart feels right; I have few drives or compulsions, no needs, and few attractions, unless playing with grandkids could be considered an attraction.

I truly believe that “When the heart is right/ ‘For’ and ‘against’ are forgotten” and doing the right thing is easy.