Firewood - Brain Games and Mindful Meditation

Sunday, November 8, 2015

We have an energy-efficient wood stove in our home, but we don’t have enough seasoned wood on site for firewood. So we ordered our first load of alder and oak this week. In our area, you can buy firewood several ways: as logs to cut and split yourself (typically not seasoned), cut rounds to split, or pre-split pieces. Split wood is often delivered by dump truck, emptied into a pile in the yard. Stacking is an extra service, but we like the exercise, so we usually do it ourselves. It’s repetitive physical work, and over time amounts to a decent workout. But the bonus, once you settle into the rhythm of stacking, is the subliminal brain exercise and reflective meditation you experience. Making order of that huge mess can elevate the drudgery to an almost Zen moment of clarity.

When you stack firewood, you are basically solving a geometry problem. Trees start out round, are cut into lengths, then split into halves or quarters. So the challenge is: how do you fit those random-sized pieces back together again to form a nice, cohesive formation? Since a cord is a stack 4’ X 4’ X 8’, it helps to visualize building that polyhedron from the ground up. If you don’t have a wood shed, you can build the stack between metal fence posts.

Start with pieces that are semi-circular, placing the flat side down to form a base. Then, adding the next level, look for the best combination of angles that will result in as much of a flat surface as possible. It’s never really flat – but you can approximate as you add layers. Here’s where the mental acuity comes in – you will start to see patterns and combinations that work best and your brain quickly assesses each irregular piece to assign the right spot for it. Once you settle into that rhythm, your brain switches to auto drive, and you start to slip into the meditation of the moment – moving, measuring, solving, moving again. Over time, you can zone out all thoughts except to focus on the activity. I wasn’t even aware this was happening until I heard “Last piece of wood” and I emerged from my neurological nap!

It is a great way to spend a cool, crisp autumn day – exercising your body on the outside while exercising your brain and mind on the inside. Once you are done you have the satisfaction of a nice stack of wood and the refreshing comfort of a mindful meditation.

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