Two men decided to have a wood cutting competition. Each of them grabbed an axe and set off cutting down trunks.
But one of them paused every now and then, returning to his hut with his axe. After ten minutes he was out again and kept going with his work. The other man never stopped for a second and he was smiling, certain that he would be the winner.
When they were done, it wasn’t even necessary to bother counting. The heap of the man who was stopping was glaringly bigger.
“How come?” the defeated asked. “I didn’t stop for a second to cut woods whereas you were going back to your hut all the time”.
“Yes, but when I was going back, I was sharpening my axe” replied the winner.
I read this story in a Stephen Covey’s book. He is (was actually, he was killed while cycling) a business advisor in human resources.
He was opening the eyes of the directors how to get the optimum efficiency out of the workforce. What did he use to tell them?: (in not so many words) “Pay them well, allow them to rest, give them freedom, make them love their work and feel proud and responsible for what they do”.
But the sharpening of the axe mentioned in his book has nothing to do with the improvement of their skills or some sort of lifelong learning.
Instead, Covey’s goal is personal development – no matter how strange it strikes, as far as business advisors in human resources go.
What does he mean with the term “personal development”? What is the true sharpening of the axe?
Briefly, we could say that we “sharpen our axe” every time we disconnect ourselves from the routine, every time we leave behind our problems, or maybe our own self (the guy with the name, the VAT number, debts and obligations).
For a religious man, this may not be so hard. All they have to do is pray to their God. A non-religious could practice meditation.
They could stroll for a while in the forest or lounge around the beach and gaze at the waves. They may just sit on their balcony doing nothing.
The purpose is to zone out and detach themselves from their own life. The ideal would be to focus on nothing, if possible.
Like the director of the movie of their life, they could zoom out and refrain from focusing on their face and see the world they live in and try to get the big picture – how small and unimportant they are in the Universe.
To rest their anguished soul that strives to fulfill all those that must be done. To say, be it for a while, “fuck it”!
To feel that they are not responsible for everything (the good and bad) that happens; to cease to be a part of the society and its norms, to pull back and remain suspended somewhere in between zero and being.
To put on their brakes and say: “Period. Now I want to think nothing, I want nobody to disturb me, I don’t want to try to achieve something right now. I am not here”.
A pause to sharpen the axe.
Because the axe is our mind, body and soul (it makes no difference how we define it). It’s an axe and it gets blunt from overuse.
We can achieve much more than those we aim for if we stop, even for a while, trying for anything. And maybe, thanks to this pause, we may perceive that all these things we strive for are not as important as we think when we are obsessed, ruled by them.
In the end, this pause, if you learn how to incorporate it in your daily life, helps you to comprehend that your life is not as unbearable as you may think when you carry it.
Life also is just a pause.
Make the best out of it according to the means available but never forget that you are just a passer-by. Do your bit, take a sip of wine, love as much as you can take and then close your eyes with no remorse.
And the world will keep changing, but you won’t be there to witness it.
And in the end, there are no losers and winners, no matter how much wood you cut down.