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No Cell Phones!

This past Friday it seemed, immersed in a unique silence of sorts that slowly descended on the workshop, men and women gathered around my workbench. My tools were sharp and ready to task and I watched the gathering shuffle onto their stools to find comfortable positions. To describe this sense of remarkable quiet would be quite impossible but remarkable it was and always is because mixed with the silence the visceral absorption of all things paralleling that same remarkable phenomenon usually ascribed childhood learning. To say people revered the ambience of quiet is not too much. Anticipation can work in many ways ranging from the absolute of silence to a sort of reverie in its truest sense of feeling true rejoicing. In their inner senses, the unseen realms of gut and heart, I and they felt protective of what was there as one might seeing a deer by the water’s edge or listening to a nightingale or a distant cuckoo. You don’t altogether want to disturb the sanctity yet you almost want to touch its untouchableness. At least I felt that way as silence seems always to be most appropriate at times like this.

It is an unusual reality that when a group of people want to be there with a common cause and it is indeed their choosing there is indeed nothing to negate the energy emanating from the crowd. This is why I use the word remarkable. We should indeed speak of remarkable things in the ordinariness of day to day because shared experience can be had in words too. When everyone leaves their smart phones alone for two full days a remarkable phenomenon happens. They were silenced to the point that I saw no one in the two days reach for a device anywhere except at the very end when they took a selfie or two with me. Quietness has become a phenomenon to the point that such scarcity of silence actually reverberates into its surroundings as a counterculture we seldom meet.

In a world where you never walk or sit anywhere for more than a minute or two without lifting your phone from your pocket or purse or see a dozen people walking blindly into one another whilst staring at this tablet of plastic and glass, we really achieved something. A key influence that silenced the phones and demanding rings was the absolute absence of boredom. Two days were crammed with woodworking’s immersive qualities and the ability to leave alternative stimuli from Google outside. We shared experience and learned. New priorities replaced programming and programs and this prioritising united with willingness to establish a different authority. He, she pays absolute attention and disallows any intrusion though a router or sander tries from elsewhere.

Paying for the class has nothing to do with paying attention. I don’t ask the class to pay attention because their attention is undivided. The listen and absorb because they want to pay close and absolute attention so as not to lose anything that’s said. The obvious result is that their total interest leads to a gain they can apply to experience in the doing of what’s been spoken.

So for two days amidst mallet blows and saw strokes, the tap tapping of joints into union and then the soft sound of a broom and a metal dustpan closing each day I found myself rejoicing that at the end of another year’s classes we had no injuries and many silent smiles from many people launched into a woodworking phenomenon that’s silently unstoppable.


  1. Ed on 5 November 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Several times now, especially at the lathe, wood chips have infiltrated my pockets and then found their way into the ports of my cell phone where they jammed up the works and made it impossible to recharge until I whittled a thin sliver of wood to pick out the chips. Now, that’s woodworking truly vanquishing the cell phone! I thought you might like the image of a dead cell phone, suffocated by wood chips.

    • Paul Sellers on 5 November 2017 at 2:37 pm

      I’ve had the same too, Ed. Especially is this so with wood dust if you use bandsaws and such too.

  2. Jeremy on 5 November 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve very seldom heard quiet before. I relish it when I do.

  3. Thomas Tuthil on 5 November 2017 at 6:05 pm

    I had a similar experience at Wooden Boat School (in Brooklin, ME) this summer. A group of people — men, women, and 3 teenage boys, concentrated on the various steps necessary to build a wooden boat — which requires a square to build, but in which nothing is square. The concentration and the communication between people working to sort out a problem was phenomenal. And none of us required our phones during the day (except perhaps to take some pictures). There was also no television to be found on the campus — and we all survived a week without. I am sure that the atmosphere of Paul’s classes and our classes is quite similar.

  4. Ian Jefferson on 6 November 2017 at 12:01 pm

    I was tutored on some of the philosophy of meditation and especially being in the present moment. Later I was reading in a metalworking magazine that working with ones hands is truly a form of meditation. Being there with the objects you are working with and attentive to the sounds, sights, smells of the activity. There is something about hand tools in wood work that makes this true even more so and Paul you often point out what we should pay attention to with our senses.

    Thanks Pauls Sellers woodworking Yogi. ūüôā

    • Paul Sellers on 6 November 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Nope, not into yoga or meditation at all. Just being Paul Sellers has always been enough and always will be. Woodworking has kept me motivated enough as it has no baggage with it when it’s as real as it has been for me and it alone gives me all the therapy I need Ian.

  5. Alan Baldwin on 6 November 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I live in a noisy house with three wonderful very verbal daughters and eight dogs and cats. Needless to say, silence is golden and my workshop is a sanctuary. As I get older I need silence more to heal and clear the way to learn the new. I think that is one of the attractions of Paul‚Äôs work, I can feel the silence that pervades his teaching. On a side note, some might be interested in a book, Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness by Robert Sardello that has grabbed me and will not let go ‚ÄĒ much like the wonderful woodworking community here. Gratitude and blessings to all!

  6. Joe on 6 November 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks Paul. Wonderful soul stirring post. When I go out to the shop I always debate as to whether to turn on the radio or work in silence.

    • Paul Sellers on 6 November 2017 at 3:44 pm

      Yes, I understand this. I often when I am driving alone I choose, choose, not to turn on the radio be that for any particular genre and I hardly ever play music there because it all stops me from thinking and working out what is important to my life and the life of others. I choose my time for allowing additional sound as best I can, asking myself if this is a good time or am I allowing an invasion. We rarely think that we are being programmed according to news presenters and media. When Britain’s so-called media providers talk constantly about things inappropriate to my life, you know, this or that, it has its unique way of becoming a very specific and unique ear worm we are tempted by in the same way a fish becomes hooked not by the worm but the desire itself for that tasty morsel of gossip.

      • Joel Cress on 10 November 2017 at 5:57 pm

        You are a good man, Paul! No phones in my workshop…no music in the car. Well, okay, if I have the radio on in the car, it is tuned to a BM station, bringing back good memories of lost days…but no music or radio in the shop, ever.

  7. Salih Marangoz on 6 November 2017 at 3:24 pm

    There is already too much signals in the air. Phones, tv and name it. We pay too much atention to many things at the same time ( question is if we really need them or did we really ask for them) and so soon will be that we are not going to remamber what is consantration anymore. We dont understand how tired we become. We are only knowing that something is wrong.
    We humans are just like ships in the sea, need a harbour for some time at least. Put away everyting else and keep your hands, eyes, nose and ears busy with your wood work. May be a tiny music but nothing more. Relax and enjoy, feel the warm touch and the smell of wood. That is not another word it is the real world. Am I right… Have a good time…

  8. Mike Bronosky on 6 November 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Trying to avoid being religious about this but it is times like this I feel I’m more in touch with my maker. And my maker doesn’t need no cellphone to get in converse with me, he has my mind, I just need to pay attention. Then indeed there is weaken sampling of heaven.

  9. Zen Den Wood Workshop on 6 November 2017 at 5:10 pm

    The Name of my shop says it all for me.

    Zen Den Wood Workshop

    Enter and take a moment to reflect on the task.
    Attention to detail, focus.
    “The Best that I can” – Shop motto.
    enjoy the stay. Not everyone has the luxury.
    You will be HAPPY with the results.

  10. Victor on 7 November 2017 at 2:41 am

    May I suggest that one’s ability to ignore cell phones depends on one’s comfort with being lost in one’s own thought?
    Then when something real, perhaps even beautiful, emerges from within, isn’t that more meaningful than being gratified by some random text or ‘like’?

    I think this is what I like most about making things with my own hands. It so happens that through the intrinsic beauty of the wood, woodworking facilitates it so much more than others.

  11. Jo√£o Marino Vieira on 10 November 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Salve Paul (e equipe),
    belíssima experiência, profunda percepção, belíssimo texto!
    Fiquei pensando no que acontece em nossas escolas c√° no Brasil e talvez pelo mundo todo…
    Não creio que seja sonhar e querer demais, porém o caminho é longo até uma sociedade de atenção plena por escolha e interesse próprios.
    Grato pela inspiração. Com esta vou me preparando pra um final de semana em minha pequena e silenciosa oficina de garagem.
    Grande abraço!

  12. Jo√£o Marino Vieira on 11 November 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Salve Paul (e equipe)!
    Belíssima experiência, profunda percepção, belíssimo texto!
    Fiquei pensando no que acontece em nossas escolas c√° no Brasil e talvez pelo mundo todo…
    Não creio que seja sonhar e querer demais, porém o caminho é longo até uma sociedade de atenção plena por escolha e interesse próprios.
    Grato pela inspiração. Com esta vou me preparando pra um final de semana em minha pequena e silenciosa oficina de garagem.
    Grande abraço!

  13. Phil Baumbach on 11 November 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks again Paul, it was a great weekend. I like your comments about the class, all very true.
    All the best in your new ‘home’

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