Striving for Now By Dr. JENNIE WARD
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
This year, I’ve begun writing the monthly “personal development” column for Sharp Women Heartland, an online magazine for women in the Strathcona County area. It has articles about health & wellness, business, finance, food, spirituality, personal growth, professional growth, relationships, lifestyle and more! If you’re interested in subscribing for free to the monthly magazine, sign up here.
Check out my article below.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood carries water. After enlightenment, chop wood carries water.” ~Zen loan.
A Zen loan is a riddle or puzzle that Buddhists use to reflect and provoke thought about the truth of the universe. Chop wood, carry water is one of these loans and it’s a favourite of mine, as it has a multitude of meanings that reflect the path to living an extraordinary life.
So what does chop wood, carry water mean? Well, it’s up for interpretation, but here’s what I think.
It shows that the key to true enlightenment has to do with how we’re BEING in the world, not what we’re DOING. What we’re being has to do with the inner spirit that we have when we engage in any activity. Ask yourself, who do I want to be in this life?
What You Want to Be
For example, you might decide that you want to be loving, honest and connected. These three things can guide you in every choice you make. Should you make that comment? Should you take on that project? Should you decide to spend time with that friend who is struggling? The question is always, is it loving? Is it honest? Does it lead you to feel more connected with others in your life?
What are the three ways you want to BE in the world? Write them down and start living them today.
Chop wood, carry water also has to do with being in a state of mindfulness- present in the moment, not thinking about the past or the future.
Have you ever spent time with your partner when you were truly in the moment paying attention to what they were saying? Deeply listening to them. Compare that to a time when you were distracted – only partly there and the rest of your attention was on your phone or what you’re going to say next or what you need to get done later. It makes a huge difference, right?
In this situation, the actual activity is the same (conversation with your partner), but the spirit behind it was very different. Mindful listening is a manifestation of enlightenment. It’s one way to chop wood, carry water.
This koan has to do with feeling gratitude for your life, in all its imperfections. An enlightened life is not a perfect life. But we can find contentment every day if we look for it. We can pursue enlightenment while doing the dishes, checking our email, going to the gym and driving to work.
This koan has to do with letting go of the belief that getting to a certain outcome will mean happiness. It’s recognizing that the magic is in the process, not the arrival.
Reflect on your beliefs and ask yourself if you are waiting to be happy when you get to ___________ (fill in the blank). Perhaps it’s retirement, going on a holiday, getting that perfect job or losing that last 10 lbs. And about that last 10 lbs. If you want to lose weight, that is of course entirely up to you, but please remember…you are perfect as you are. Truly and completely.
I can tell you that life is no better there than here. Still go for those goals, as that’s an important part of a wonderful life. But know that it’s your internal life that really matters. And your internal life does not depend on those external circumstances. Hear it again: life is no better there than here.
Chop wood, carry water encourage us to find the extraordinary in the everyday experiences of life. It’s interesting to me that we often think that the experiences that will make us happy are those big things, like an annual family vacation. Yet, all we want to do on that holiday is go for walks and relax outdoors with our family. Things we could do regularly here at home if we chose to.
It can be a powerful practice to ask yourself, “how can I make this day extraordinary?” Usually, it’s as simple as some special time with a loved one, some time in nature or spending a bit of time doing an activity that brings you joy.
Chop wood, carry water also demonstrate that we don’t have to be in a special position or in a special place to live the purpose of our life. Too often, I see women feeling frustrated and blocked when it comes to identifying their purpose.
Here is my suggestion when it comes to purpose: If you desire to be a teacher, teach. You don’t have to go get your education degree and become an “official” teacher (but of course you can if you want to). Impart your knowledge when the feeling strikes and the time is right. That’s teaching. If you desire to be an artist, make art. Schedule in time to foster your artistic creativity and see what happens.
Do it right now, where your life is at the moment. You don’t have to make a big change. Just chop wood, carry water.