Chop Wood, Carry Water

There’s an old Zen saying— “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It’s easy to get carried away and think that living with a Zen attitude means anything other than accepting the present moment as it is.

Zen requires us to make peace with ourselves, our time, and our place on Earth. We don’t do anything remarkable after we realize that the key to life is simply to live. Instead, we realize that the secret wisdom of the world lies in the same day to day tasks— chopping wood, carrying water, listening to others, listening to ourselves.

When we eat our food, we eat it with full attention. When we speak, we do so mindfully. When we meditate, we focus wholly on the breath so that other thoughts can float by without latching themselves onto our consciousness. When we do this, we allow ourselves to have faith in the process, in the moment, and in ourselves.

There’s no reason to strive for any sort of higher living, or to do extraordinary things just to feel extraordinary— it’s all one and the same. Once we make the distinction between higher and lower, we create boundaries that cause us endless suffering. Instead, we can follow our own bodies and the intuitive gleanings of meditative practice to reach a place where cooking rice or cleaning the toilet are no different from conquering the world or becoming rich and famous.

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