“Chop wood, carry water.”
At one time these tasks were very common, daily tasks that many performed. In modern times this saying be interpreted as, “Drive to work, mow the lawn”. What this expression is telling us is to perform our daily tasks and be mindful while doing them. That is the secret to enlightenment. To do each task we do with the fascination and wonderment of a beginner.
The reason this is so important to understand is that many people think they can be awakened by way of some magical technique such as physical contortion, or by extreme physical condition such as starvation or excessive labor. These extreme tactics do not work well for most people. Though this quote seems like it favors labor, it does not mention doing it excessively to the point of physical exhaustion. The key to enlightenment is to be mindful of everything we do all of the time.
What does that mean? It doesn’t mean to merely think about what we are doing and over-analyze it. If we think about walking too much while we are walking, we will trip! Using walking as an example, it instead means to enjoy the sensations of walking and be aware of it without thinking about it too much. Feel the muscles move and bear the weight of your body with each step. Feel the change in the ground when moving from concrete to grass. Feel your belly move with each breath as you walk.
Since I mentioned “drive to work” I must stress that we are not to space out while driving and get in an accident. It is very much the opposite. Rather than talk on our phones, while eating and talking to our passengers, we should instead have our full concentration dedicated to driving, to keep ourselves and others on the roadways safe. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the drive while doing so.
The key to enlightenment is to have a beginner’s mind while doing the common things that we are already doing. It is almost like a child doing things for the first time, they are often amazed at the little things we take for granted each day. Let us not take things for granted anymore. Be mindful, be truly in each moment, do not over-analyze.