chop wood carry water

Chop Wood Carry Water and Wash Hands

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.’


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?

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An inspirational writer, a creativity and writing trainer/coach, I write about life, gratitude, healing, wellness, relationships at Everyday Gyaan. I offer training/coaching to anyone looking to explore their creativity and heal through writing via The Frangipani Creative, located in Secunderabad, India. You can also find me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, Bytes of Gyaan, on Substack.

15 Comments on “Chop Wood Carry Water and Wash Hands

  1. So totally true no matter who you are, where you live & what you have. I thought the same thing and I just can’t get my mind to create anything right now. I’ m just barely hanging on most days.

  2. What a lovely post! That’s very good advice, and essentially, what I’m trying to do right now. At a personal level, it is a very stressful time for me, and in all of that, I seem to have forgotten how to write. So, I’m just trying to write a few words every day. Even if it’s rubbish, I’ll keep writing everyday, because that’s all I can do.

  3. Loved reading this one, Corinne. My hands are so full at this time that I am overwhelmed. I am okay most days. Anxious on some and more so about what’s happening and all the doings of the virus. I had an insta tracker on my phone for the count in India but after two weeks, I stopped checking.
    What has to happen, will happen. So I am letting it go. Between all that, I have to work (which is SO MUCH), cook and clean. VT helps as much as he can and that is good but this about survival. To keep myself going, I am working out in the morning and then I am trying to stay regular to blogging. Even if it’s a photo post, I am doing it.
    I hope this passes soon. Thanks for the call the other day. It was so good to hear you. <3

  4. Thats story and the title is awesome Corinne- just what everyone needs to read in these times to distract from all the news and other mundane stuff filtering in through social media.

    I totally get what you are going through as I thought I would sit down and do some of my mosaic work now or write more. I cant focus at all. between completing all house chores, shopping, cooking and eating – I am exhausted. Reading is not helping neither is watching TV – cant concentrate.

    I am an ace one day in the kitchen and a total joker for the next 4-5 days. Too may high and lows on my graph but I am glad to survive and be well enough to cope up.

    I have been doing a gratitude thread too to keep myself motivated- you are absolutely right about this being the key at the moment.

    Take care and stay safe!

  5. What a reassuring post this is . There are several people who don’t have the luxury of chopping wood and doing routine stuff . They are too busy trying to find their feet in this chaos . As you said we are blessed . Stay blessed and thanks for these comforting words .

  6. Hi Corinne – I think Australians have been kinder to each other during this time than the people you described in your post. I’m grateful for the fact that we’re so far away from it all and have closed our borders for now. It still feels strange to be in such a long hiatus of doing virtually nothing (my post today is on that exact topic – taking Long Service Leave from Life!)
    I think you’re right in being kind to yourself, allowing yourself to just “be” and to focus on what you can accomplish, rather than on what you can’t. Life will go on and we’ll see this through – but looking after ourselves is the key.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM

  7. I really enjoyed your post, the story and can see the benefits to this way of thinking in these difficult times. We also can’t compare our lives with others or do what others are doing. we have to be our unique selves as you illustrate. Lovely reading for #mlstl

  8. In many ways my life changed due to Corona virus social distancing life became less hectic since I need not participate in multiple activities and pick and drop kids to their learning activities. Iam kind of peaceful with current situation though working from home is challenging with kids and cooking. I plan to be grateful and continue. May be sometimes, it’s good to slow down.

  9. As we spoke about it I feel like with all the chaos going around us its importance to not kinder o n what we are not able to do are not feeling like doing and focus more on present and spend more time ourself. I can feel and understand where this is coming from. Love & Hugs.

  10. So very true Corinne! Blaming the innocent and the plight of the migrant workers is the most disturbing of all… I started to write my feelings but never finished it because I was overwhelmed with anger at the thoughtlessness of some people.

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful anecdote. It reminds me of the advice the Saint of Arunachala gave to one of his followers: “So, you’re not finding time for practicing meditation for self-realization? Let me tell you the secret: attaining self-realization is the easiest when you do the things you do every day mindfully.”

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