There’s a Zen proverb that says, “Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”
I’ve always thought of this as a reminder that no matter how “enlightened” I am, or spiritually important I am (or self-important I may feel), I still have to do my part. It is still important to be of service – to my family as well as to my community.
For example, a few months ago, I was visiting the Mother Church for a celebration. We arrived early, and enjoyed some time with the heads of the Church, who reminded me that I was acting Arch Priestess of Canada. (I get to give that title back next week, thank goodness!)
The next day, people were getting ready for the celebration that was happening that day. I was there, so I helped clean. I vacuumed the floor, because it needed to be done. I could maybe have passed that job off to someone of lower “rank”, but why? I’m a capable woman. Chop wood. Carry water. Vacuum carpet.
The Zen proverb can also be a reminder for humility. When it comes down to it, we are all people. Sure, we have different experiences and training, and some of us have fancy titles and more or less money. And we are all still humans, with our own talents and shortcomings. None of us is inherently better than anyone else.
Yesterday, as I was actually stacking wood, another meaning of this proverb occurred to me.
Before I can focus on my spiritual needs, I have to make sure my physical needs are taken care of. I have to stack the wood to keep it dry so I can heat the house. I have to prepare the food to keep me going (and keep my children fed!). When those basic needs are not taken care of, I can’t even begin to focus on, or sustain, my spirituality. No matter how enlightened I become, no matter how high I raise my vibration, that alone will not put food in my belly.
Sometimes I get really tired of chopping wood and carrying water. I would much rather read, or meditate, or escape into a movie. Or catch up on homework and grading papers. And I know it needs to get done. I can delegate a certain amount of the work, and some of I just have to suck it up and get it done. Chop wood. Carry water. And smile.
PS. Does this sound challenging? The Balance guided meditation will keep you in alignment as you chop wood and carry water.