Chop Wood, Carry Water

Before enlightenment—chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment—chop wood, carry water.” —Zen Buddhist Proverb

The duties are the same. The need is the same. So what’s the difference?
The frame of mind.

The practice of mindfulness—being in the present moment—invites us to focus on the task at hand. When we’re in the moment, everything becomes lighter; we’re not compelled to watch the clock.

When we’re fully present, we discover that work is no longer a burden.
Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.

At our house, one of our favorite areas to practice mindfulness is eating. Len and I share a middle name—Hoover. We tend to vacuum the food right off our plates!

That is…until we started eating with chopsticks. These wonderful utensils have caused us to slow down. To pause. To reflect.

What’s your favorite task to practice mindfulness?


69 thoughts on “Chop Wood, Carry Water

  1. Laurie,

    I was very aware of the idea of chop sticks slowing one down to enjoy the meal, yet as you say it is still about attitude. One can still eat with chop sticks and not be aware or thankful for the food in front of them. and If I am mindful I use my chop sticks to eat.

    My favorite task to practice mindfulness, is my camera. It slows me down, offers me sights I would not look for, the world is full of wonder. The task is taking photographs of that wonder to share with the world.

    • Jeff – I know exactly what you mean about the camera. I so appreciate being on the receiving end of what you capture when looking through your lens.

      Recently I was being mindful when looking at digital photographs I’d taken in a cemetery. Because I was paying particular attention, I became aware of something that I’d never known (thought of) before. I’ll be blogging about that in a few weeks.

  2. When I’m introducing a mindfulness practice to leaders in my coaching practice I often start with the practice of a mindful cup of coffee … even a minute or 2 can help.
    Pouring the coffee into my cup I take in the aroma (ah hazelnut) fully appreciating it as I take a deep inhale and slow exhale. Holding the cup I feel its warmth, another deep inhale and slow exhale. As I take the first sip, I notice the taste of the coffee,its warmth moving down my throat and down through my system. And so on …
    When I’m very pressed for time, I too sit with my coffee this way. The first time I did so I noticed the coffee was quite bitter … changed brands as a result.
    Another way to be mindful during the day … before the next call just take a deep breath or 2. Wendy Palmer (Conscious Embodiment) offers several other mindfulness practices on her website.

  3. By the way Laurie … I do love the quote you chose. It’s not about doing the dramatic new thing; it is about being awake each momoment (or as many as we can) during our daily life. Thank you.

  4. I recently took up a modified version of Tai Chi. The instructor is a physiotherapist who is very cognizant of the majority of her class (who have suffered strokes). I go with a friend mainly because I need to get off my duff and move more! Anyway, she tries to get the class to focus inward in an effort to re-create connections between the brain and the muscles. We ‘wash the organs’ with oxygen, breathing in deeply and imagining the oxygen is flowing to interior and exterior parts of the body. I often close my eyes during some of the motions to help with the focus and how my muscles are moving. I love going to class because I’ve learned so much about ‘living in the moment’. 🙂

    • Mywithershins – I love the word picture you painted: “We ‘wash the organs’ with oxygen, breathing in deeply and imagining the oxygen is flowing to interior and exterior parts of the body.” Yes!

  5. Walking is what always brings me back to the moment. There is something about the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, that settles me back into myself and opens my senses. And breathing, when all else is running wild 🙂

    • Colleen – Your wonderful comment quickly brought to mind Thich Nhat Hanh’s walking meditation practice. yes, Yes, YES — the simple actor of putting one foot in front of the other. If you’re not already familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh, here’s a link to a clip of it on YouTube:

  6. Great reminders today, Laurie. I started reading this post balancing my bowl of oatmeal in my hands, but when I got to the part about being mindful while eating, I guiltily put it down for later! 🙂

    My partner started using chopsticks to slow down and become more mindful during meals, too, but now he seems to be more skilled with the sticks than with a fork! If he wants to slow down, he’ll try using a spoon for his salads now.

  7. I am reviewing a book about mindfulness on Thursday’s post and the author talks about mindfulness at every waking moment and how it could bring about world peace….a fairly amazing book.

    I am working on healing my liver and kidney’s with mindfulness and walking meditation – my last test results indicated that it is working. I am also using a detox diet as a way to stay in the present moment and not cause us more medical bills – it too is working, but it takes nearly every waking moment.

    I also am a KIND person, and I work at putting kindness first in every encounter – even with myself.

    The chopsticks idea is a good one….clever indeed

    • Patricia – I’m looking forward to your review this Thursday. I love what you said about kindness: “…I work at putting kindness first in every encounter — even with myself.”

  8. you must let go of resentment to be mindful. I used to do each chore, resenting that I must do it all myself. After many weeks of healing, letting go of resentment, and strengthening my marriage and family dynamics, I can now do the same chores while feeling the warm water in the sink, smelling the lilac dish soap, hearing the broom swish on the floor, things like that instead of just hearing the anger stuck in my heart. Same chores, different me.

    • Roots2blossom – You bring up an excellent point, “You must let go of resentment to be mindful.” For you this has resulted in, “Same chores, different me.” That’s a profound statement.

  9. Of course this is a most LOVELY and pertinent post. 🙂 My favorite mindfulness practice involves watching thoughts. If I don’t witness them steadily I will A) start to believe they are the self, B) start to believe they’re true on the basis of simply being a thought and C) start acting sometimes unconsciously from that belief and identification. It’s a full-time job watching those thoughts, let me tell you!

    • Kathy – When I read your words “watching thoughts” the imagine that came to mind was watching whales. I’m going to take that ball and “swim” with it (so to speak). Each time I slip into your described A, B, or C, I’ll visualize a whale breaching, and it will remind me that I’m “breaching” a contract with self to watch thoughts.

      THANK YOU for you inspiring comment!

  10. To be mindful? Since I tend to run pretty much wide open when I am on my feet, I am mindful of the door posts and walls. I gain a portion of true mindfulness when I take a trowel in hand, drop to my knees in front of a stretch of soil that needs to be worked. I poke, I prod, I turn the soil over and peer under the clods. I crumble it in hands, testing for tilth and viability, organic content and porosity. Often I am so mindful of this activity that before I know it the Sun has set, the Chicken Ladies are up way past their bedtime and no one has cooked my supper. Then it becomes time to cut wood and carry water.

    • Sandi – I can just SEE you doing this in your garden (although I don’t know what tilth or porosity are). You’re wearing your big hat and you’ve got muddy knee-spots on your jeans. You’re sweating to beat the band and pretty soon you’re going to gift yourself with sweet tea — iced! And all the while, everything you just described is — indeed — being mindful. Absolutely in the moment!

  11. I love the idea of slowing down my using chop sticks. You’d think that living in Vietnam for a year, I would have learned to use them as easily as a fork, but no–not the case. I don’t know if I succeed in being mindful in any way. Sad.

    • Kathy – You and Sara should start using chopsticks again. It makes for a longer meal, which means more pleasant conversation. And girl, I betcha a dollar to a donut that you’re mindful (absolutely present — in the moment) when you’re working on your book 🙂

  12. Laurie would it be cheating if I said my most favourite tasks to practice mindfulness are painting and photography? They are you know. But out the “chores” list I would have to say laundry. I like collecting things to wash. I like doing laundry and hanging it on the line. I like the stacks of folded clean cloths. These tasks are immediately gratifying and down well a person must pay attention, unless you like pink hues to your white tee-shirts. Another chore I like is taking the garbage out – has to be done about every six weeks in our house as we recycle to much to get in any heavy duty mindfulness practice. Eating is not a task for me it is pure pleasure and I like to say – chew slowly as you can no longer taste after you have swallowed. Best of the week to you my friend! ~ Terrill 🙂

  13. Laurie, I enjoyed reading everyone responses. I was mindful of waiting and not responding as soon as I received your blog post.The gift of everyone’s mindfulness was lovely! I am mindful each morning during yoga poses.

    • Sheila – There certainly has been a plethora of rich comments here — a goldmine of mindfulness in and of themselves! Mindful during Yoga poses promotes whole health — body, mind, and spirit 🙂

  14. Thank you everyone for all the beautiful posts. I found myself breathing slower as I continued reading and connecting with each of you.
    Very inspiring and many wonderful suggestions.

  15. I like to meditate. And do yoga. For the day to day things, though, I love knitting as a way to really just chill out and really “see” what’s around me. I love that you recognize that using chopsticks increased your own mindfulness 🙂

    • Anne – At HolEssence our Yoga instructor offers a specific class for knitters! (I guess knitters can get tense shoulders/arms/wrists) — and she weaves in meditation as well. If you haven’t visited Leanne Dyck’s blog, she’s the author of “The Sweater Curse” and she sprinkles her blog posts with knitting patterns and accompanying photographs. Here’s a link if you’d like to take a look:

  16. Mindfulness cab be practiced in a number of ways, but methinks you settled on the one area (eating) that for a number of reasons benefits the most from reflection and purposeful moderation. I still haven’t picked up the proper coordination to use chopsticks, though oreiental cuisine has long been one of my absolute favorites. I continue to be mindful of what I eat (for lunch today I bought an order by pasta with live oil, broccoli and carrots and a cup of extra large strawberries for desert) but I’ll admit I have never mastered the art of eating slowly. Lifestyle has always been rus, rush, rush, and eating like everything else is affected.

    I practice mindfulness to some degree when I write and when I walk.

    • Sam – I love what you said about “purposeful moderation” in eating. The lunch you described sounds delicious and super healthy! Like you, when I write I’m mindful. But my walking is most people’s running 🙂

  17. I have to agree with the first commenter, too: when I am in nature is when I’m most mindful. And I’m finally finding that the practice of mindfulness when I am outdoors CAN and DOES translate to my writing. So true – when I’m in the ‘mindful’ writing zone, precious little else matters, and the time ticks on by.

    • Melissa – Outdoors in nature…it doesn’t get much better than that! I love (and relate) to what you said, “…when I’m in the ‘mindful’ writing zone, precious little else matters, and the time ticks on by.”

  18. Lovely post. i feel as though wordless music is typically a quick path to mindfulness for me – if I can get lost in the melodies, I can keep my mind focused on the little things (those we typically ignore in our day to day).

    • Thoughtsontheatre – I, too, find that instrumental music (no vocals) is an soothing way to launch mindfulness. I’m so glad that you stopped by and left a comment. Thank you.

  19. Love the quote… and I also really love your quote about “changing..” A lot of wisdom there and is actually one of the best quotes I have read….honestly. A novel is in that quote!!! 🙂 Thank you! Terri

  20. Oh Laurie, I should have read this great reminder earlier this week as I’ve lost my balance and have been struggling (and neglecting) to get through my daily chores, distracted by a major project. Thanks for the nudge! I love the idea of eating with chopsticks, too – maybe that would slow me down and bring me back into the present moment. My favorite task to practice mindfulness is doing the laundry…

    • Barbara – Always glad to provide a little nudge 🙂 I don’t know if they have them in your neck of the woods, but we got our chopsticks at “World Market.” I agree with you about the laundry — especially in the summer months when we can hang clothes on the line to dry. I have a much better relationship with laundry when I’m outside in the fresh air and sunshine, than when I’m standing in front of the washer/dryer down in the basement.

  21. Hi,
    I love to go walking. We have a beautiful park not far from where I live and it goes for miles, beautiful stream runs all the way through, very relaxing, and even though there are a lot of people usually around peaceful as well.

    I tried eating with chopsticks once, it is certainly an art, I didn’t succeed in the food even reaching my mouth. 😀

    • Magsx2 – A beautiful park and a stream that goes for miles. Those are definitely two ingredients that would help a person to be relaxed and mindful.

      We’ve gotten to be pretty decent with chopsticks. Although the occasional piece still does fall to the floor – but between Willa and Lexi (our two dogs), cleanup is no problem 🙂

  22. no chopsticks for me…I can’t get the hang of it LOLs..
    I love outside, I was working on a faerie house , time just wasn’t there, I listen to the secata’s I had 3 crows visit me, I loved going through the lichens and moss and bark I use, and this one has seashells…
    I thought I had been out about an hour, when I realized it was after 2:30…I just let time drift away ….
    quilting does it for me to in the quiet zone
    Hope your Sunday was peace-filled Laura….
    Take Care…

    • LadyBlueRose – I have a friend who, like you, makes wee faerie houses for her garden. She said she finds it therapeutic. It’s been decades since I quilted. The last one I made was the “apple core” pattern. I can remember though, the peacefulness of taking each stitch.

  23. Pingback: My Man Godfrey, Bringing Up Baby, All Quiet on the Western Front and play Night of the Living Dead: The Musical on Monday Morning Diary (June 4) « Wonders in the Dark

    • Heather – You’re absolutely right. Chopsticks (at least for us), prolong the meal which makes time for lengthy conversations. I know you have children at home. If your family decides to try this, World Market carries “children’s chopsticks” — they’re connected at the top for easier use. Sort of like training wheels for chopsticks 🙂

  24. Pingback: Chop Wood, Carry Water | Top World Blog

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