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Welcome to the website of

Bruce Fraser MacDonald, PhD

A Message of Hope for Troubled Times

Email: TheThomasBook@gmail.com





Rehabilitation and the Making of a Boat

© Bruce F. MacDonald, PhD

            In addition to being a university professor, I was also a sculptor for many years, until I had a severe case of viral encephalitis in the summer of 1991.  That illness wiped out most of my memory and I had to use meditation to put my life back together again.  Much of this story is found in Chapter One, Part One of The Thomas Book and also in several places in The Prayer of Silence, since what I learned while recreating my memory from deep levels of consciousness is also part of the process of healing which others can go through.  I describe the process at length in The Prayer of Silence and give guidance and exercises there for others to follow.

            Here I would like to describe briefly the important role of a boat in my return to full consciousness. 

            About a month after the illness my wife asked me to make her a simple square frame she could use to do some embroidery.  At first I thought, “That will be no problem.  That is about the simplest piece of woodwork one could think of.  It just requires four lap joints at the corners and it is done.”

            But when I went out to my workshop to try to make that simple frame, I suddenly realized I did not know how to make it because I could not visualize in my mind the process that would manifest those simple joints.  It was a terrible shock, as I then started to try to visualize how I might make other things which would have been terribly simple in the past.  The encephalitis had not only wiped out my memory.  It had also affected something much more profound in the way I saw the world around me and in the way I organized and created the things I wrote and made.

            I discovered that I could not visualize anything in my mind, whereas in the past I had always been able to visualize anything I wanted to make.  I could see things in my mind, walk around them to see them from all sides, make changes and see how that worked – all in my mind.  But now I could do none of that.

            I realized that many of my thinking processes were built on this ability to see things in the mind.  Research articles, lectures, public talks as well as the carpentry and sculpting depended on this kind of ability to see things in a multi-dimensional way in the mind.  I had not only made sculptures but had also designed and built a workshop, complete with electric wiring and heating, furniture and a variety of small inventions. 

            I knew that I had to get this ability back if I was going to be able to do anything in the future.  I had also lost the ability to use a computer, to write, and to remember what I read.  What I had lost was comprehensive, and any rehabilitation would have to be comprehensive.

            I had lost not only memory, but much of my thinking capacity as well.  At that time I read books, forgot what I had read, and on re-reading thought I was reading a whole new book.  Only when I found my penciled in notes did I realize I must have read the book before.   I would plan things only to have the memory of the plan disappear quickly so that I had to start all over again. 

            I wondered what rehabilitation project would work best for me, and finally settled on designing and building a boat, since it was the most complex compound form I could think of, and the process of researching, planning and building the boat would be comprehensive in the demands it made on me.  I was not content to start with something simple and work to something complex – I sensed that I had to challenge my mind if I was going to succeed.

            I started by reading all I could about boat design, including the physics of the interaction of wind and water and the physical form of sails and hull and rudder and keel.  This required that I read as many books as I could get on the subject, take notes, and then re-read the books several times because my memory would not retain what I read.

            I also realized through experience that if I read the material and then incorporated it in my daily meditations, seeing it from the perspective of the Watcher (this is an important part of The Prayer of Silence which I cannot explain here) then I could somehow incorporate the information as more than information.  It actually became a part of my overall awareness of how my body related to wind and water and the environment. 

In this way the planning of the boat actually taught me much about the importance of the kind of meditation I was learning in the Prayer of Silence.  I was building up a comprehensive awareness of body, environment, ideas, philosophies and motivation, rather than merely a lot of abstract theories.  I was creating a field of awareness within which I could act.

            I initially thought I would use a ready made plan for the boat, but then decided that I would “loft” the boat myself, a rather complex process for defining the shapes involved in building the hull. 

            I also decided not to have any detailed plans, forcing my mind to retain and work on the design of the boat, rather than depending on written plans to take the work away from the brain.  It was quite interesting, actually.  I would often have the sense that there was something about the design of the boat that I needed to resolve, but that my brain did not want to achieve.  So I would concentrate all my mental, intellectual and spiritual force on resolving the problem, including bringing the difficulty into my time in meditation, often sitting in meditation in the workshop with the construction materials around me, as if bringing those into my field of awareness would help resolve the problem. 

            On a number of occasions this concentrated focus would actually lead to a point where I had a sharp pain in some part of my head, then there would be something like a “pop” and then the pain would disappear and I would be able to resolve the problem on which I was working.  But I also noticed that it was like this process opened a mental door, so that in the planning after that point, I was able easily to achieve what had been impossible earlier. 

            Through this process I realized the importance of perseverance, of putting all ones efforts into achieving the desired end, even though the brain damage had been severe and it would seem that the brain should not have been able to do what it did.  I discovered through this process that consciousness is not in the brain.  The brain is a convenient storage place for information and a convenient computer for resolving complex issues, but the consciousness, the intention, the motivation, the spiritual perception which transcended brain issues, was not of the brain.  It resided somewhere else, in a field around and within the body, which could be activated to force the brain to do things which it seemed unable to do because of the damage caused by the encephalitis.

            As I worked on the boat itself, I quickly realized that building the boat was almost like creating a design field in space, using the brain and the field of consciousness as aids, and then finding ways of filling in the design field with the appropriate physical materials to accommodate the different forces which would act upon the boat in the future. 

            Building the boat became a spiritual pursuit, finally.  I think as you look at the pictures on the next pages of the website you will realize how the boat took shape and how the spiritual discipline of meditation on the material outcome finally produced a work of functional – and spiritual -- beauty.