Friday, June 1, 2012

Chop Wood and Dance with a Partner

I spent this afternoon chopping firewood for my sister. This is one of those tasks that has a beautiful rhythm to it. Once you get into that rhythm, all of a sudden you have a cord of wood.

There is an old saying that some of you may be familiar with. It goes like this. "What do you do before enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water. What do you do after enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water."

Simple tasks like this are rewarding in a couple of ways. For one, you can see the direct result of your effort. The other is that the simple repetitious movements require you to pay attention to what you are doing, yet that very simplicity allows you to empty your mind of chatter. You have one simple focus: chopping wood. Other thoughts just drop off the radar. It is calming in that way.

So after chopping wood, I cleaned up and went contra dancing this evening. Another simple pleasure. For those hours, I was not doing anything but dancing and appreciating all the other people who were there to dance with. There was just the joy of the music and the movement, and nothing more. It was enough.

Sometimes enlightenment comes in simple packages. It can mean a lightening of our load. Just doing what is in front of us to do and getting satisfaction from that. Focusing is a good lesson. When we focus on cutting the wood, then we provide ourselves with something useful and our focus prevents us from hurting ourselves.

It is when we do not pay attention that we hurt ourselves. I notice the same thing in dancing. When we try and carry on conversations and take our minds off what we are doing, we can fall out of the groove of the dance. We lose our place and get lost, forgetting which way to go next. And when we just pay attention to the dance you feel good, your partners are happy, you are happy and the dance is a pleasure.

Just focus on what is in front of you to do, and everything gets done in good order and everyone is satisfied. So one definition of enlightenment is that you are able to get more joy out of those things that you choose to do and that brings lightness to our lives.

Chopping wood can lead to enlightenment. Dancing with a partner can lead to enlightenment. The path is not always mysterious, although our simple actions can have profound consequences. There are many paths to enlightenment. This is part of it for me. What is it for you?

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