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.


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.

6 thoughts on “When the Shoe Fits”

  1. There’s lots of room for thought here. Old age certainly can have a degree of freedom, but mine has hot been free of concerns. My mother’s last years were difficult, my late husband’s last years were difficult because of alcoholism, sometimes my children had troubles. Now I have a happy and satisfying marriage but suddenly we are embroiled in legal issues over Jerry’s brother’s will. But like you, and the figure in the poem, I find comfort and peace in craft and creative activity. These things draw the mind away from trouble and conflict.

    1. I certainly feel blessed that, on a personal level, at least, I’ve found an inner balance. That’s not to say that everything goes smoothly; I’ve had three bouts with cancer and various back problems. I’m constantly amazed how the body erodes, even when you work twice as hard as you used to in order to keep it in shape.

      There’s always more than enough sorrow and misery to go around in this world, but I have found an inner peace with where I’m at now that I no longer have any personal ambitions.

  2. Perfect post. I work hard at attaining this inner peace and I am happiest in my workshop creating or repairing things. I have very little need of direct social contact and tend to shy away from positions with responsibility even if it is just on a committee.

    1. I’d keep this in mind, though: “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” Virginia Woolf.

      1. At 70 I don’t think I’m avoiding “life.” I’m trying to enjoy what I have left to the fullest, something I probably didn’t do enough of when I was younger and focused almost exclusively on being the best teacher I could be.

        I’ve never been into hedonism, but I still think the ultimate goal in life should be to attain the greatest possible happiness.

        Unfortunately, our society seems to equate that with collecting things, and most of us have a hard time freeing ourselves from that delusion.

  3. I love this poem of William Stafford’s:

    Pretend You Live in a Room

    Play you had a war. Hardly anyone
    got killed except thousands of the enemy,
    and many go around starving, holding
    their hands out in pictures, begging.

    Their houses, even the concrete and iron,
    they’ve disappeared. These people now live
    camped in the open. Overhead
    stars keep telling their old, old story.

    You have this world. You wander the earth.
    You can’t live in a room.

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