A love note to woodworking from a psychotherapist
I’ve spent the last month building furniture with friends, learning how to operate a drill, use tools and joining different physical materials together to build a home. I loved it. As a therapist, I foolishly thought that it is fundamentally relationships that make a home (a professional hazard perhaps?), but I’m slowly recognizing how much of ourselves we pour into the ‘objects’ around us — building a relationship as we build our furniture. Our physical space and pieces, reflect our inner world in ways I don’t think I saw completely until I engaged fully in the physical labour that goes into a loving home. What we build mirrors us, comes out of us and we leave a part of ourselves in it.
I noticed a lot about myself through this process. For example, I was a lot more forgiving of wobbly bits and loose screws on my furniture than my friends. I feel I have so fundamentally, inwardly, stopped seeing spaces and people as projects that need ‘fixing’ that I find ways to work with and around the kinks. It is also these imperfections that makes my furniture — mine. I know that a particular chair is not perfectly stable and know just how to sit on it without it toppling over. And I’m not perfectly stable so my furniture can be forgiven if it isn’t too. Knowing the furniture in your home, really knowing it is like a relationship with a loved one — comfortable, well-worn and full of kinks and kooks. Which is perhaps why it is so difficult to let go of when the time comes — it holds a journey of love.
Woodworking has parallels to psychotherapy — we see hope that the parts we are delivered come together to eventually make a beautiful whole. It is also difficult, cumbersome and lonely to do this by ourselves. Some parts are too heavy to carry alone, others need different angles to see what’s not going right and sometimes, when you make mistakes it takes a helping hand to not dampen your spirits about starting over. But being able to physically hold and see progress, visualize the parts that make a whole and ‘reaching a goal’ is such a satisfying, tangible experience with woodworking. In therapy, not so much. Growth, mistakes and feeling whole again can’t be measure with a tape or seen with our eyes. In fact, it is a kind of jigsaw you don’t know the full picture of until you start putting it together. As time passes and we reflect, the picture on the jigsaw changes. It is dynamic and there is so much unknown. But the pleasure and the labour — often towards ourselves — remains as fulfilling.
Woodworking is challenging, just like therapy. It requires us to hone certain skills, trust our instincts and unlearn certain habits that hold us back from moving forward. Everyone can do it, we just need the desire. It is more difficult for some of us because it feels like uncharted territory — a muscle we have not worked out before. While beginning can be daunting and the end can seem nowhere in sight, it is the process that helps us move better through the next challenge. The more we do it, the easier it gets even though it isn’t free of setbacks.
The final parallel is one that perhaps only I held in my body — I didn’t think I could do this. I didn’t feel equipped, strong or ready. But with a friendly hand showing me how to hold the hammer, I could nail a lot of those loose screws in. And I didn’t break my back while I was at it.
(A special thanks to my buddy Vidur and sister Anmol for being my champion dream team)