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Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.

Zen Proverb

A common misconception in following a spiritual life is the belief that in order to follow the practice that one must live in a cave, wear a saffron robe and beg for alms. This picture of a monk with a shaved head living in the mountains leads one to believe a spiritual practice is not possible unless one practices asceticism.  This commitment level and practice is too much for some so they refrain completely from practicing a spiritual life.  This all or nothing mentality creates a missing in a person’s life.  It IS possible to have a spiritual existence without a shaved head and bamboo cup.  Many masters  in India as well as spiritual practitioners across the globe live a regular life with a family, and a job.   How is such a life possible?

The essence of living a spiritual life is contained in the Zen quote “when hungry eat, when tired sleep.”  Now before your mind reacts and you say to yourself….’Gee thanks for that incredibly obvious piece of wisdom.’  Look at this quote more closely,  along with the initial passage above ‘before enlightenment chop wood, carry water…after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.’ Break life down into the simplicity of the present moment.  As human beings we do not live in the present moment.  We carry our past forward with us, we yearn for something in the future and all the time we miss what is in front of us at all times.  Life is beautiful right in front of us at every moment.  Focusing on this moment right now removes the mind from drifting to wants, needs, desires….all driven by the mind in search of attachment.  With attachment comes suffering. 

When I am in the mind-set of when hungry eat, when tired sleep I am fully present to the simple needs I actually have to survive and I am present to life AS it is happening.  I can see a child’s smile across the park. I can see the bird in the tree.  I can smell the lilac tree as I run by.  I can feel the rain on my skin and the presence of the divine in every moment. 

In the early days of the Zen monasteries, the number of monks grew to the point that it was necessary to split up tasks, chores throughout the day to keep the place running.  It was impractical to have all sit in meditation all day as there was upkeep and food needed.  The practice of meditation while awake and doing chores was brought into practice.  This practice was a supplement to the actual sitting meditation with the intent to find PRESENCE at all times throughout the day.  Do not let your mind wander.  Bring it forth to the present moment be it listening to another, focusing on a task, or going for a walk. 

The simplicity of a spiritual life is available for anyone, no shaved heads required.  It involves staying present, getting the mind under control, practicing love and compassion.  Clear your mind….Chop wood, Carry Water.

Call to Action:

        • Create the distinction within yourself that YOU are a SPIRITUAL BEING.  Once you declare this then you will look for actions consistent with this way of being.
        • Stay present with what you are doing at all times.  Be with people, Be with your task.  Multitasking is overrated.  It takes away from BEING PRESENT.
        • Be LOVE

Thomas D. Craig

Author A Cup of Buddha