This week I have spent over two hours chopping paper – at our children’s school. As I sipped my hot tea and simply chopped numerous colors of paper into various shapes, this Zen phrase came to me – “Chop Wood, Carry Water.” I had to quietly laugh at myself, because while in my 20’s and on the meandering path to my life’s purpose, I found comfort in the concept behind this idiom. And now, 20 years later, with two degrees, a wonderful husband, three natural child births, and a richly blessed global-lifestyle – and I’m still “chopping wood and carrying water.”
The concept comes from a simple Zen expression. “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” What’s the difference? The tasks are the same. The need is the same. What is the frame of mind? Who is chopping and who is carrying water?
Do we really ever change I wonder? What I do know is that true joy comes from the very moment I am in. Real misery is at the source of multi-tasking – either mentally or physically, and especially both. Even with greater “maturity” that I can claim after 43 years of diverse life experience, formal education and accreditation from the school of life, my greatest “accomplishment” is meaningful joyfulness. I know this with confidence now as I’ve seen many have great material gain and yet live devoid of true happiness.
Often I am critical of myself – expecting that I should be “producing more” in this world. Ironically, it is at the chopping block that I find my center again – and realize what a privilege it is simply to be of service. Here merriment finds me in the making of colored paper turkey cut-outs. In this place, at the proverbial well of the school, I too receive unexpected gifts that come from simply being on task – like friendly, spontaneous conversations with my children’s teachers about sweet moments that touched their hearts, and about how our children contributing to the classroom.
“When we open awareness to the tasks in our lives they become lighter. When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.” – Tom Barrett
I close in gratitude for peace in humble work. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” -Colossians 3:23. With God, all things are possible, in the most unlikely places!