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Chop Wood, Carry Water

Zen Proverb: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Much has been written about the meaning of that Zen proverb. Today, I see the message as my reminder that all of life is lived only in the present moment. Enlightenment is not a destination, it is found in every “now.” It is constant practice in the simplicity of focusing in this moment. Instead, we tend to live in the future or the past . . . in our heads.

It’s so easy to get lost. When I am focusing on the future, my unconscious serves me up some fear. This is not new, except there is just more of it these days, and it’s worse because I am alone with it, without him and all that he brought to my life. Though, I know how capable I am; I don’t always want to be.

I feel the burden of so many added agendas and responsibilities. When I get stuck, family and friends always have kindly suggestions for me, but they aren’t my answers— OUR answers. Sometimes, I am just too weary to even stomp my foot in protest. Depression looms. I have heard that we experience depression to the extent that we feel powerless. This is a bad place for me.

Okay, Tanya, just do the next thing. What will offer the most relief?

My antidote? Physical work, something that when I am done I will see a difference. Do this outdoors if possible.

I feel resistance even as I put on my work clothes, unsure I will actually get myself out the door. If I do, I have no idea what I will do out there.

What can I really accomplish by myself? We always did this stuff together. How will this feel? Will it make me even sadder? Am I physically up to it? Why the hell do I care so much about what the neighbors will think?

I remind myself that even when our DIY work was grueling and gritty, there was something in the challenge, a feeling of grace. The work was joy.

I think for most people, if it is a choice, physical work goes by the wayside, a relief for most. Passing on the life maintenance things like cleaning house, doing yard work, or putting on a fresh coat of paint, leave us disconnected from the basics of life. These things not only have value in them for what they accomplish, they also serve a larger, higher purpose. They keep us grounded, humble and grateful for all we have. Physical work takes focus that engages the complete self and recharges us tenfold.

I did go outside. I spent two hours doing heavy physical work. I challenged my strength— physical, mental and emotional. I moved earth and my mood. With that, I discovered that to relieve grief, chop wood, carry water.

A personal note to my dear readers. It's clear my perspective these days is mostly about life "after." It is a new and interesting perspective! I never intend to be a "downer." I write to understand what I am feeling and hope it sheds some light for others. At some point everyone will experience grief. It's a part of life we want to avoid, but my hope is first that when it is your turn you may remember something you read here. Second, if you know someone who is grieving you will pass the posts on. Many thanks for reading.

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