Chop Wood, Carry Water

There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m definitely in the ‘before enlightenment’ state of things, and most definitely lately. I feel further away from anything spiritually meaningful than I have in a while. I’m tired, getting over some sort of mild virus, and likely swinging on the swing set of hormones. While I usually have a strong container for dealing with news and the internet, the last few says have felt particularly overwhelming. It feels like the few are eager to make a quick buck off the backs of the many. If it’s not the confusion and atrocities of Syria or the targeting of Coptic Christians in Egypt breaking my heart, it’s the continued melting of the ice caps, destruction of bee colonies, or systematic reduction of access to affordable and relevant healthcare for the poor, the marginalized and/or women in the US. How can we continue to poison one another, in body, mind, and spirit??

What’s a person to do? I neither want to stick my head in the sand, nor do I want to freak out from overstimulation. I don’t want to ignore the suffering of others, but I also don’t believe that I have the power to make the change I want to see. I cannot single-handedly affect policy in the Middle East, save innocents from drones, or abolish contaminants in our water,plastics and food. While I do my best to make the healthiest choices for my family that I can, I don’t think I can avoid all toxins, nor do I completely believe that we, as a society, can shop our way to change.

Again I ask, what’s a person to do?

Chop wood, carry water.

I accept that I’m overwhelmed, that for whatever reason, my boundaries are lower today. I remind myself that usually I have good perspective and that whatever I’m feeling will pass and my perspective will return. I make sure I’m eating something healthy (not falling onto my stand-bys of milky tea or coffee). I focus on my chores. I move my body and do one thing that I have to do anyway. I sit in front of my altar, even though it seems pointless in this mood.

What do you know? I’m less cranky after sitting. Even a pouty puja is better than no puja at all. After my chores I feel a little stronger, a little more focused. I know that it’s a mere semblance of control. By tomorrow this clean living room will be dusty and cluttered and crumbed once more. And that’s ok. Every day the water needs to be carried.

That’s how I’m feeling this week. If the wise ones are to believed, I may feel this way at times even after enlightenment. Good thing I’m getting good at chopping wood and carrying water.

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