We raced down the tobacco rows,
me moving left and right, cutting and hacking.
He was gliding with a simple grace,
making few steps, only what was needed,
a near ballet with a blade. He was ahead
by nearly twice as much and I was out
of breath and tired. I think of the ease
that experience and knowledge
had allowed him to move in.
Knowing what was needed,
he provided it effortlessly.
A grown man playing
with his teenager nephew,
letting me think I was keeping up.
It was the Taoist phrase,
“wei wu wei” at its finest.
Doing without doing.
It was a common thing, when I was a kid, to see tobacco growing across the fields on the local farms. There were several years that we grew our own small patches when I was in high school.
One of my more fond memories of these times are when I cut tobacco with my uncle. He was a veteran in the art of clearing a row of tobacco. Watching him swing a tobacco knife and spear a stalk of tobacco was like watching Tiger Woods swing a golf club. It was an effortless thing of beauty. Only the basic, necessary steps and movements were taken.
When we raced cutting down the rows, I went hacking and swinging, moving in circles, four steps to his one. He was like a fluid swordsman striking with precision and intention. He let me keep up, like playing with a toddler. I finished the row winded and tired, and he had barely used any energy.
This, to me, is an example of how to live life well. Doing without doing. Moving through life with a grace that looks effortless. I think of the young version of myself trying so hard to do what took little effort, and I ask myself, “Where are you taking unnecessary steps? Where are you making life harder and wearing yourself out?”
It is possible to live a life that looks like a work of art, where all your thoughts and actions flow from some settled place of experience and knowledge. This may take time and probably even decades of self examination and reducing the unnecessary steps but what better time to start than the present? Where are you making unnecessary steps?
Eric Overby lives in Russell County. You can find his poetry on Amazon and more of his writings on Instagram @mindful_stoic_poet.