On Living in Your Hands…


Live in your hands and your mind will learn to bow like a root. – Mark Nepo

In his devotional called Live in Your Hands (Nepo), the author describes the difference in living too much in your head and not enough in the real life activity of living. He tells a short story about a man who, so distraught after seeing a woman mugged, immediately sits and writes a poem about it. In response, another person quips “yeah, because that is much better than stopping the mugging.” How often do we see this is real life? A news report of tragedy or a social media plea for help garners the response, “I’m praying for you,” or “I can’t help but I’ll share your post.” While praying and spreading the news can certainly bring awareness to the problem, only action will solve it. Unfortunately, few people really want to get their hands dirty these days, literally or figuratively.

This got me thinking about my own hands. They have often been a source of shame for me when I was a kid. They have not changed much since childhood. They were almost as large and calloused back then as they are now. Giant leather mitts, they are. I remember climbing on the monkey bars when Kimberly, a petite girl in my third grade class, put her hand next to mine in comparison and said, “You have grandma hands.” I did; and I do. As I am now a grandma, I guess one could say I’ve finally grown into my hands.

I was outside this afternoon and noticed a four-leafed clover. I have a peculiar gift for finding them. I don’t even have to search. I just look down and there it is. I don’t pick them anymore. I just touch them for luck (mine and the clover’s) and move on. As I bent down to touch it, I noticed my hand. I never used to wear rings; I didn’t want to draw attention. Now, I wear four. On my thumb is a Celtic Knot beside a sterling band inscribed, “Ancora imparo,” which is Italian for “I am still learning.” On my first finger is a thin band containing the names of my four grand kids. On the ring finger is a silver and turquoise turtle, a gift from my youngest grand child. None of these rings are particularly valuable monetarily, but all are very important to me. In this moment, I was struck with the idea that I’m no longer embarrassed by my hands. I’m not saying I didn’t welcome the Covid-19 restriction on hand shaking. It is a weird tradition if you think about it; as arbitrary as rubbing noses together. But, I left shame and embarrassment somewhere in my travels and don’t intend to go back for them.

But, what does living in my hands mean? For me, it means reaching down to touch that four leaf clover, picking up a new baby chick, chopping vegetables, stroking the soft ears of my dog, or reaching over and holding someone’s hand. It means writing with an actual pen on actual paper. It means pulling weeds and digging in the dirt without gloves. Someone once suggested to me that I should wear gloves when I garden to protect my hands from the dirt; inferring maybe they wouldn’t be so rough. But, science tell us that dirt on the hands, along with sunshine, can actually positively change the chemicals in the brain. Why would I want to protect my hands from dirt?

Proverbs 16;27 says, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 instructs, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” There is so much scientific and anecdotal evidence to support these scriptures. When I am working with my hands, my mind stills. I’m am still thinking, of course, but the thoughts turn positive when I am active. Taking a long walk outside generates good mood, gardening leads to counting my blessings, and writing leads to problem solving.

My beloved Charles stays busy with this hands all the time. He doesn’t obsess over life questions. He doesn’t ruminate over why a stranger didn’t return his greeting. He doesn’t fight to fall asleep at night. But, when he was laid up for 10 weeks after an accident, there were times where I could see he was in danger of slipping into depression. He had some angry outbursts, said some harsh words, became impatient with me and himself. He struggled.

Conversely, when I was sick with Covid and could not leave my house or engage in strenuous activity, my mind struggled with a despair, hate, condescension, jealousy, and generalized rage. Reading couldn’t fix it. Watching movies couldn’t fix it. Scrolling social media couldn’t fix it. The cure was in getting my hands dirty again.

I can see why solitary confinement is considered inhuman punishment for prisoners. Nothing productive to do with ones hands, no one to talk to, and left only with living inside one’s head… that would certainly be torture for me.

So, I appreciate my hands in that they get my out of my head regularly. Working with them, getting them dirty, using them to comfort and make connection with another person or life force, facing them up in meditation, or folding them in prayer, my hands are a gift to me. Life is best lived in the hands.

Bibliography: “Live in Your Hands.” The Book of Awakening, by Mark Nepo, Conari Press, 2000.

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