“Chop Wood Carry Water”

March 11, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’ve seen this pithy phrase around and about the Internet for a while, and always wondered what it meant but never bothered to find out. The Universe always has a way showing me what I need to see at just the right time, and today, that was Maria’s succinct post on enlightenment. Her insights hit all the right buttons that compelled me to go searching for explanations of this koan. And I found this.

Essentially, it means (to me at least): Carry On. Whether you’re enlightened or not (however that term is defined), keep doing what you’re doing. Keep doing the work. Keep on carrying on. It sounds mundane, boring and routine, but it only appears so to the untrained observer. Because you can only know yourself if you’re enlightened or not, and if you are, this is a fact that doesn’t need trumpeting. Externally it may seem like things are the same, but internally – your frame of mind, your intentions, your attitude – have changed, and it will show itself in your work and in the fruits of your work.

This insight really moved me today, because this whole thing about work and life and meaning and purpose have been such a big part of my reflections about my life journey and where I’m headed and what I want to achieve with my ‘work’ and ‘career’. I’ve found that, more and more in the past few months, I have become more cognizant of the temporary trappings of “fame” and “recognition” (as defined by blog statistics, twitter followers, etc) and, as a consequence, have become less interested in these goals. Which has left me wondering: what then is the purpose of what I do if not to strive towards a tangible, measurable goal? How can I explain my work and “career” to others if I don’t speak their language, and am disinterested in the very indicators of success that they seek? It has left me in a bit of a quandary and quite likely explains the dip in productivity (compared with the six months prior). I have been in a mental and attitudinal limbo with regards to my work with perhaps a 5 percent awareness of what’s causing the discomfort, and an opaque veil obscuring the rest. The veil, it turns out, is my inner conflict with regard to the motivations for my work. I am trying to fit in to the mass perception and stereotype of what constitutes a successful “career”, the uncertainty and fragility of which worries me and plagues me with anxiety – that I am never good enough.

When what I really want to do is to cast aside those feelings of inadequacy, and the pressure I feel (perceive) to “fit in” to the stereotype in order to do what my heart desires, without regard for the indicators. This is fundamentally, what my creative journey has been about the past almost 3 years – this learning to detach from the desire to be “famous” and all the statistics involved in tracking “fame”, to instead channel my energies into doing work for work’s sake. Writing for writing’s sake. Photographing for photography’s sake. Cooking for cooking’s sake. For the pure joy of the activity in itself, without extravagant regard for the outcome or for reactions to the outcome. That – the unnecessary energy spent worrying about my adequacy/inadequacy, about perceived “competition” and hypothetical reactions/receptions to my work – that is my biggest struggle, and one of the biggest hunks of trash I need to pack up and ship out. I need to do this, so that I can continue to chop wood and carry water, because that is what I am here to do, enlightenment or not.


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