Category Archives: getting back to the basics

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Day 7 of 29 Days of Spiritual Messages.

We begin today with a few lines of a poem (“Zen Forest”) written by a Chinese Zen master more than one thousand years ago:

Magical power,
     marvelous action!
Chopping wood,
     carrying water . . .

At first glance, one would say, Well, what does chopping wood and carrying water have to do with anything? What does it have to do with spirituality?

Chopping wood and carrying water are simple, down-to-earth tasks. Without wood we have no fire. Without water we have no food or drink or cleanliness. These lines were penned during a time when such basic tasks were necessary for survival. These were simple words to live by.

And they still are.

But we tend to overlook the importance of such simple acts, especially in this busy day and age.

Look at all the things that bombard us on an everyday basis: work, technology, relationships, finances, household chores. How do we make all of these things, not just some of them, part of our spiritual path, especially when culture teaches us otherwise?

We live in a fast-paced world. No wonder people are confused. Everything happens at once. There is no heart in what some of us do. There is no spirit. Just a numbness and desensitization. Things get done because they have to get done, not because we want to get them done.

Our needs and wants are not parallel here. Our inner scale is imbalanced, and we feel it in the form of stress and illness. We’ve lost our way.

This is when we need to get back to the basics of “chopping wood” and “carrying water.” We need to reevaluate, refuel, realign, reinvent, and recommit ourselves to the highest good.

To reevaluate, we need to slow down and come to a complete stop. We need to stop everything that we are doing in that moment and simply quiet ourselves. We need to remove ourselves from all distractions so we can hear ourselves think and allow ourselves to feel. We begin to examine those tasks with a more critical eye. We ask how they are serving our growth, if at all. We reprioritize.

To refuel, we get back to practicing self-care. Taking care of our basic needs helps us to rebuild our awareness and reconnect with our essence. We let go of those tasks that no longer serve us. We adopt new tasks and practices, ones that fulfill and satisfy us on all levels of our being. The basics become imbued with a “magical power,” and we begin to see our actions as “marvelous,” full of meaning. The mundane transforms, as do we in the process. We love ourselves back to life as we drink from the Inner Well.

To realign, we begin to let go of what culture says we should do. We no longer listen to what others — our teachers, parents, friends — tell us to do. We find our center, our truth, and we begin to live our lives from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. We choose to listen to our Inner Guidance System, our Source. We find ourselves more alert and alive than ever before.

Courtesy Google Images

To reinvent, we practice renewing our minds on a daily basis. We put mindfulness in action every single moment, every single day. We strengthen our Core through our daily practices. Before we fully awaken, we perform worldly tasks, paying no mind to their importance. After we awaken, we may perform the same tasks; however, these actions take on new meaning. What was once habit transforms to a consciously chosen effort. We grow more mindful in all that we do. Imagine chopping wood without mindfulness. Now imagine your foot without your toes.

To recommit, we make a vow to ourselves and to our spiritual growth, not to our egos that split us into separate selves, apart from our essence. Instead, we are to put our egos on the chopping block. It’s not so much about finding ourselves as it is about remembering who we are.

Getting back to the basics is about getting back to ourselves. The demands of life will still be there, but we will approach them in a more holistic way, one that carries truth and meaning. One that finally has heart.