A Little Sunday Zen

Cover of "Chop Wood, Carry Water"

Cover of Chop Wood, Carry Water

There is a famous story in the Zen world that Dinty W. Moore (every time I write his name I think of baked beans), author of the “Mindful Writer” includes in his book. On page 118 to be exact. It goes as follows:

The student, newly arrived at the monastery, asks the master, “What work will I do as I seek enlightenment?”

The master replies. “Chop wood, carry water.”

“And what work will I do once I achieve enlightenment?”

“Chop wood, carry water,” replies the master.

A simple bit of Zenism, and as with all in the Zen world, it needs an explanation in order to understand it. According to Moore, “writers write”. They may do a myriad of other things: walk their dog, go to work, take meetings, care for their family—but in the end he says, “…any writer, even a writer who has published….and won two dozen awards, gets up in the morning knowing what must be done. The words must be chopped and the sentences carried.”


Woods (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I think the famous story in the Zen world has a larger meaning. It can apply to all things we do in life—we must “chop wood, carry water”—we must continue what we are doing; we must not be satisfied; we must carry on. Our job is really never done, and when we think it is, we have in essence, stopped living.

It is a story of purpose, and without purpose there is no need to “chop wood, carry water.”

My bliss today is to keep chopping wood and carrying water. What about you?

Get Over Yourself

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park...

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park bench plaque, facing Sacramento River, Redding CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is my very favourite time of the year.”  ~ me

I write a weekly column called “On The Homefront,….and Beyond” for a small town newspaper, and I often start my rants, raves, or mere observations with seemingly simple, or to be quite honest, truly simple,  statements like the one above.  Then I wonder why people bother to read what I have to say because really, why would they care? I have been doing this for 51 weeks a year, for almost fourteen years now, and have only repeated one column due to a death in the family.  The strong desire that the space temporarily allotted to me on page 5 of the Kingsville Reporter not be filled with anything other than my column has given me the inspiration to find something to fill it, even in my grief.

I try not to think too much about my audience. Actually, that is not true. I write with my audience in mind, but I try not to think about what my audience thinks about me too much, because then I would not be brave enough to tap words into my computer, and email them off to the newspaper for publication.

I know my column is read in some of the local lunchrooms at the municipal office (I  cover municipal politics), the local grocery store, and maybe even at some of the schools. But I am not comforted with this knowledge, as I imagine that some of the readers wonder just who the heck I think I am to write about the subjects I comment on. Then I remember the words that get me through both the more grisly and just slightly unpleasant  events  in life: “get over yourself”, and continue my merry wordsmithing.

Ever notice when good things happen in your life, you do not need this advice? Because when the good things happen, many times you do not need to navel gaze, you just accept them thankfully without askance (perhaps with the slight uneasiness that if you look down the throat of a gift horse too deeply, you will find something you would rather not face. Remember the Trojans.)

“Get over yourself” is a rather crude philosophy with a lot of adherents, who put the advice much more gently. One of Oprah’s “gifts” to the world is Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. He wants people to basically just ignore their egos and get on with life. Live and let live is basically what his books are about.  He is not really this clear—he talks around the point, about the point, and describes the point, but never says “get over yourself” in those exact words. But that is all he is really saying. There, I have now saved you the time it takes to slough through his books to get to his point. Although once I got used to his circumventing of the point, I did enjoy how he said it, without really ever saying it.

As I am a bit self-conscious, but not to the point of being paranoid—I shall keep my new mantra at the forefront of my mind when I write: “Get over yourself, get over yourself,……”, sort of my version of the Little Train Who Could: “I think I can , I think I can,….”

Control Freak

Meyerheim: Three children playing "hide a...

Meyerheim: Three children playing “hide and seek” in a forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was written before I started on my official quest to become organized–

Enlightenment can be a painful thing. You would think that once you have come to a realization about something then that particular clarification would give you insight into how to tackle the problem at hand.  But what if that problem is you?

I am reading yet another book on how to get organized. This one is called “One Year To An Organized Work Life” by Regina Leeds. I am hoping to find a filing system that will work for my particular situation, since the one I have now, which I like to term “hide and go seek” is not working for me. I know that when you put something in a file, label it, then file it, you should be able to find it again. I know this. I am just trying to find out why this theory is not working for me.  Hence I am the problem here. (I think the disconnect comes somewhere after “label it” and before “file it”.)

But solving that dilemma is not what caught my attention. The book is meant to be read over a year’s time, and we are supposed to take the full year to put the actions suggested into play. Of course that is not how I am using the book—I am reading it from front to back in as short a time as possible and taking notes (not copious or I would never get through it) to remind myself of the points I should enact.

I skipped forward to the month of June for some reason and came across the chapter called “Dealing With Difficult People”. Since I generally work alone this does not particularly apply to my situation, but then I came across the section called “When the Difficult Person Is You”.  Thinking this might have some intelligence I might gain wisdom from, I read the section, and winced, then chuckled. The author was once an actress and found herself in a personal “situation” that makes her point. She says,

“I learned a big lesson many years ago when I was a professional actress. I was in a play and there was a lull in the dialogue. It was probably a  heartbeat in time, but when you’re on stage it feels like ten minutes of dead air. Just as I smugly thought to myself, ‘I wonder who the idiot is who has the next line?’ I realized I was the idiot. I did not have to jump in and cover for another actor. I had to cover for myself.”

Now admit it, something similar has probably happened to you.  I think we all have, with a tad bit of self-assured smugness thought that someone else was responsible for a gaffe when in fact we were the culpable party. I know I have been guilty of this, and I would share my experiences with you, but they are a bit too embarrassing. Over the years my gaffes have waned somewhat, not because with age comes wisdom, but with age comes “been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.”

The key, the author says, to dealing with difficult people is to recognize them for who they are. Since we generally know ourselves pretty well this should not be too gruelling. She categorizes difficult people into three groups: the naysayers, the control freak, and the underminer. If I were honest, I would have to say that I am a closet control freak. Now if you got a look at my house right now, it would be apparent to you that my control freakiness is not in how neat I keep my house, (though deep inside I am a really neat person, and someday I am going to let that person out).

I try to keep my control freak under wraps, but she comes out when people (read: my husband John) wear their work boots in the house—you know the kind—with deep ridges that hold tons of dirt, then when you walk the dirt is deposited in the ghost of the footsteps left behind? I like sand on the beach, not in my carpet. Sometimes I do not complain. Sometimes I just get the vacuum out, but there are other times…well, we won’t go there.