The Boat Whittler

Let’s call him the Boat Whittler.

He awakes when he feels well rested; he owns no clocks. He works as much as he needs to, in order to provide for his family the necessities he can acquire by no other means, though the number of hours he toils for this purpose is minimal, as he feels no need for more money or possessions than are necessary. He has no emptiness in his life that needs filled with material possessions; he feels no compulsion to seek happiness through consumption, and feels such pursuits would be futile in any case.
As a result, he has an enormous amount of “free” time, in which he enjoys sitting on him back porch, whittling boats and other objects from fallen pine and basswood branches. Occasionally, he’ll sell some of his pieces or trade them for needed supplies of some kind.

He notices the paint on his porch is quite faded. It’s flaking, and a few boards could use replacing. However, he’s unconcerned with how the neighbours may view the state of it. He has nothing to prove to anyone. He likely won’t repair the porch until the notion strikes him that fixing it will be necessary, and he won’t feel obliged to do so a moment sooner. And when he does get to it, he will enjoy every step of the process.

It won’t be today, though. Today, he will fetch some fallen birch and pine sticks that he had collected and stored until they had dried out enough for his liking. He will sharpen his knife on the edge of an old file, and he will sit on his paint-peeled porch and whittle a pretty sailboat for his child. He will be at peace as he does so, just as he was when he sharpened the knife; just as he was when he recovered the stored wood; just as he was when he collected the fallen sticks sometime before.

For him, the Wanderer and the Settler are quite similar: both are seeking. Both are striving for something. Both are on an arduous journey in hopes of finding something worthwhile at the end of it. Both fear eventual death to the point that they fill themselves with anxiety to try to get the most out of life before that inevitable day comes. Both greatly wish to find what the Whittler has already found without venturing past his gate.

Both, in his estimation, are sadly missing opportunities every moment that they aren’t at rest and at peace.

He doesn’t get distraught over the fact that he will one day no longer be a conscious human being. He doesn’t care how long he lives. He doesn’t toil in an effort to achieve longevity any more than he toils to achieve wealth. He suffers no anxiety from being concerned with his eventual demise. He’s instead content that he’s currently alive.

He’s not religious in any traditional sense, but he’s observant. He long ago discovered that when you’re unconcerned with trivialities, and not constantly filling yourself with anxiety for the purpose of one day becoming anxiety-free, your mind has room, and time, to develop a keen sense of natural laws, of people, of what we perceive as reality. One thing he notices is similarities of thought and purpose between different religions and practices: such as that between the Buddhist objective of finding internal peace rather than outwardly seeking happiness (and knowing the difference), the Christian notion that “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) rather than something external, and the Stoic practice of viewing everything as an interesting experience, rather than categorizing events into “good” and “bad” and then feeling them according to which state you’ve ascribed to each.

He thinks: what if there is nothing else? What if that glorious feeling of contentment and inner peace is a state known only during the shockingly brief moment that we’re conscious in human form, and never experienced before or after, in all eternity? What if that is the case, and we spend so much of every day of every year toiling misguidedly, filling ourselves up with anxiety — that distinct lack of peacefulness — all along the way?

If this is all there is, the Whittler reasons, and the joy of contentedness –- the absence of anxiety — has never been felt prior to human awareness and never will be again, then now is the time to feel it, embrace it, and bask in it. This moment. Not some vague future moment we hope will arrive after struggling to accumulate wealth or experiences. Now.

He feels it may be a resource far too precious, and fleeting, to brush aside until some other moment. And if he’s right, and whoever has felt the least anxiety during their lifetime has had the most successful human experience, then he has trumped both the Wanderer and the Settler. Yet he doesn’t feel as though he has won; he only feels the smooth hull of the tiny wooden boat as he runs his thumb slowly along its length. And it feels good.

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