Chop Wood and Carry Water

There is a Buddhist koan that says:

Before meditation, chop wood and carry water.

After meditation, chop wood and carry water.

 

Today, much to my chagrin, I find this koan staring me right in the face.  If I could choose the course of my day it would be meditation, yoga, working with clients or facilitating classes and programs, having coffee with friends, writing and possibly drawing, hanging out with my husband and kids.   Usually, the last things I want to do are the nitty gritty everyday chores of laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, paying bills, etc.  Unfortunately, these are the necessary things for continuing in our day to day life.  Unfortunately, I tend to put them off until they are absolutely necessary and the tasks long overdue…..mostly because I look at these tasks as a burden.  HHHHMMMM  What if I decided to look at them from another perspective?

“Chop wood and carry water” sounds like burdensome chores to me as does paying bills, cleaning the house, etc.  However, when I open my eyes to another perspective, I begin to get a glimpse into the life-giving aspect of these “burdens.”  I begin to see that the everyday work of our human existence provides a very important gift.   There is a great temptation in contemplative life to get lost in the quest for enlightenment, ever seeking those moments of transcendence and release.  There is a temptation to place this quest above our task of living and being human.  Chopping wood and carrying water keeps us grounded in this human experience.  At the same time, performing these tasks are necessary to our survival in the human form.  Unless we have attained the detachment of the Himalayan masters, we need food, clothing, shelter, water and a safe and comfortable environment in which to pursue our spiritual explorations.  Performing these tasks provides the foundation upon which this journey may continue.

Then there is the invitation to active contemplation.  Rather than perceiving our day to day tasks as something separate from our contemplation…..what if we performed them from the perspective of contemplation.  How do we come to know God more fully in the tedious everyday tasks?  How do we come to know our own truth more fully through these chores?  How can we, through the execution of these jobs enter into present moment awareness, allowing the deeper peace to emerge?  These are the questions I face today as I surrender to the opportunity to spend the day chopping wood and carrying water. 

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