Chop Wood, Carry Water

Chop - Carry

I’m reading ‘One Hundred Days of Solitude’ by Jane Dobisz, and it’s a great read. Jane decided to stay in a remote woodland cabin for 100 days of intensive Zen practice and she documents some of her experiences in the book. One of the phrases that keeps on coming up, as she immerses herself in a frighteningly packed schedule of bowing, chanting, sitting and working is, ‘Chop Wood, Carry Water’. It’s a phrase I’ve come across before, but like many other Zen sayings I wasn’t really sure that I understood the message that’s being hinted at.

Jane writes easily, beautifully and honestly about her simple routine of sleep, meditation and a little work, each day for 100 consecutive days. I get the sense that she’s emphasising the importance of the routine, seemingly mundane tasks that compose all of our day-to-day lives. She seems to be confirming that complication, sophistication and complexity can inhibit our understanding, or at least are unhelpful in terms of Buddhist practice. Having perhaps over-complicated my running training in the past if feels right for me at the moment to simplify the situation and schedule my running and racing more intuitively than before.

The phrase of ‘chop wood, carry water’, has been with me as I’ve run with less intensity over the last few weeks. Although many people wouldn’t classify running as one of the more mundane activities that support our day-to-day existence, it has become so ingrained in my life that I treat it as such. As I pull on the shoes I try to remember, or stay aware of, what I’m doing To put it another way I’m trying to reconise and honour the routine.

Even if I can’t wake up, I can savour each step.

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3 thoughts on “Chop Wood, Carry Water

  1. I only find I truly enjoy my runs once they get over a specific distance (usually 4 to 5 miles). It is at that point that I find myself decoupling from the mechanical task and my brain stops associating with the world and the running enters a trance phase.

    Mind you, there are plenty of runs where I never find this groove and just slog out the miles in the hope that the ‘click’ will come at some point before I turn the key in the door.

  2. Ger

    Today’s begging is finished;
    at the crossroads I wonder by the side of Hachiman Shrine
    Talking with some children.

    Last year, a foolish monk;
    This year, no change!

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