When the first noises of the pandemic started to filter in to India, I suspected, from all my reading of the situation, that we’d be confined to our homes for a couple of weeks. I made sure I copied all the files from the computer I use at The Frangipani Creative studio on to a hard drive, selected some non-fiction that I’m reading, and some course material I’m creating and brought it all home. The idea? To use this time to write and to create. I even created a small nook in my home for me to sit at and write. But did that happen? No.
Chop Wood Carry Water and Wash Hands
For some reason all that’s happening around us just got to me. And I just couldn’t create – at all. Trying to get to grips with how to stock up and yet not panic. The blaming of Chinese to the extent that innocent people were getting targeted in the streets. The targeting of people of certain religions. The images of migrant workers getting beaten as they attempted to walk hundreds of kilometres to their villages. The constant reminder of people going hungry.
All I can do in a day is go through the basics. Wake up. Walk the dogs twice a day. Plan our meals. Cook food. Wash the dishes. Clean the house. Sweep the yard. (With a lot of help from José). And then keep on reading the news. Attempt to be active on Twitter. Post blog posts that had been lying my drafts. Attempt to connect donors with agencies that were feeding the needy. Go out a couple of times to shop for essentials. And yes, move my beta training programme to a virtual mode – one session a week. And of course, keep washing my hands between every task.
All around me, I see people being so creative. Writing. Cooking fabulous food. Drawing. Painting. Stitching. Crocheting. Blogging from A to Z. And I began to feel so frustrated. I was even angry with myself.
Then I remembered the old Zen Kōan :
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
A young boy became a monk. He dreamed of enlightenment and of learning great things. When he got to the monastery he was told that each morning he had to chop wood for the monks fires and then carry water up to the monastery for ablutions and the kitchen. He attended prayers and meditation, but the teaching he was given was rather sparse.
One day he was told to take some tea to the Abbot in his chambers. He did so and the Abbot saw he looked sad and asked him why.
He replied every day all I do is chop wood and carry water. I want to learn. I want to understand things. I want to be great one day, like you.
The Abbot gestured to the scrolls on shelves lining the walls. He said, ‘When I started I was like you. Every day I would chop wood and carry water. Like you I understood that someone had to do these things, but like you I wanted to move forward. Eventually I did. I read all of the scrolls, I met with Kings and and gave council. I became the Abbot. Now, I understand that the key to everything is that everything is chopping wood and carrying water, and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same.’Source
I realized that I don’t need to do anything fantastic during these unusual times. I just need to make sure that we’re safe and healthy. I need to survive. But I realized that two of my biggest survival tools are mindfulness and gratitude.
I’m going through this time holding on to love (thank God for the daily reminders of it I have through José, Pablo and Lucky), being mindful through the chores and being ever grateful for all that we’re blessed with. So I continue to chop wood, carry water and wash hands, but in an enlightened way.
I’m smiling because I chose the word ‘metta’ as my word of the year. And I spoke of how it means loving-kindness to myself and wishing the same for others. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing during this lock down. Taking care of myself and wishing others well!
How are you coping during this difficult and baffling time?