Chop Wood, Carry Water

“There’s a Zen saying that goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. “

Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings

“When will life get back to normal?”, “Everything is just so crazy now.” “Who knows what will happen?”, I don’t know about you but I hear these sentences several times a day from people in different states, different economic backgrounds, and even different races. When I hear folks complaining because they can’t go to the gym or take that romantic get-a-way they were hoping for because “Life” has gotten in the way, I start to think about chopping water and carrying wood. You know, making the coffee, folding the laundry, watering the plants, cleaning the bathroom, drinking the beer, running to the store, putting food on the table, and putting the Boy Wonder to bed.

When I first heard the quote “Chop wood, carry water.”, I wondered if the first Zen Master who said this was hated by his pupils. “We go to this guy for enlightenment and he makes us do his chores. This guy is a dick!” My kid will say that same thing someday. “I ask him to take me to the baseball field and he says do the dishes!” Sure chores suck. I’d rather be watching the Laker’s play in the NBA bubble. I would bet that most of us see those mundane tasks as getting in the way of life. But then a thought occurred to me (Yes, mom I have those once in a while), what if those mundane tasks ARE life? 

They give us the opportunity to slow down and pay close attention to the people around us. The finished product of folding someone’s laundry looks very different than folding their laundry with love. Taking your time to fix up a new house with a focus on details can be a transformative act, so can cleaning out the old one. Making a meal together as a family breathes new life into an every day occurrence. Not to mention, it cuts down on the chopping I have to do. Impressed? Just a little tip I picked up from the Zen Masters. “Chop carrot, add water.”

The next time I hear someone complain about what is going on in the world and I don’t join in, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I am thinking of all the wood I have to chop tomorrow, and all the water I’ll make Boy Wonder carry after that. 

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