Monday, July 27, 2009

chop wood, carry water

note to self: always clean, degrease and lube bike before showering, not after. duh.

rick fields (et al) wrote a terrific book titled chop wood carry water. I bought this book a good 15-20 years ago, and when I went to look for it today I first ran across a similar book by the author jon kabat-zinn, full catastrophe living. I laughed, as that title seems incredibly appropos of my life these days, and set the book aside for future essay material.
but at the moment I was focused on finding chop wood carry water, and discovered it lying where I remembered it to be once I stopped and thought about it: in the cupboard of my bedside table.
the title of this book originates from a Chinese Zen master's poem written over 1000 years ago and translated by soiku shigematsu,
Magical power,
marvelous action!
Chopping wood,
carry water . . .

last week john gave me a 25th anniversary copy of the book, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, which I had never read, sneaking in as I did at the very end of the "hippy" era. I read a bit of it over the weekend, and it must be impacting me because today, while I was cleaning my bike, I leapt immediately to the concept of chopping wood and carrying water.
the point of that title is that we can all find a spirituality in common acts of everyday life; in fact, that these are often the best places to connect with that spirituality. it's also expressed as doing small acts with great love and awareness. as being present, fully involved, with whatever you are doing.
today as I wiggled the rag between my fingers to remove grime from my rear derailleur, slowly moving the chain around to expose each new tooth, I found myself in an incredibly peaceful place of pure focus on a necessary task.
not a loved task, by any means, but a vital task that impacts my well-being.
I was aware of each movement of my grease-covered hands, and I was involved in the care of this machine that takes me places I couldn't go without it. love was present, and knowledge gained, and even some level of a skill developed over time, which all combined to put me in a place of contentedness. and a place of spiritual connection.
ordinary tasks done with attention and focus on the actual activity can lead one to a greater joining in with the depths of one's soul through this pure process of being fully present. it moves one to an almost meditative state, yet there is complete awareness, attention, and action. it is a connection with a deeper, more divine place within oneself where peace and timelessness thrive.

of course when I finish and come back inside, the clock has moved its minute hand 30 times, a bead of sweat is trickling down my back and my hands are black with old lubricant and grime. but I, myself, have been in an aeonian space that has given rest to my mind and peace to my soul.
so I intend to hold the catch phrase chop wood, carry water within me as I go about living these next few days, hoping that it will continue to hold me present and accountable for how I relate to the world around me.

but at this very moment I'm incredibly glad for modern plumbing and the gift of running water (and serious soap and scrubbing pads), without which the hand-cleaning process would be much lengthier and more trying . . . though the very challenge of having to clean my hands in a bucket of slowly darkening water might lead me to another bout of timeless, zen-like existence . . .
I think I'll pass on creating that experience for myself, and just be grateful for that running water.

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