I have been a long time reader and practitioner of anything Zen. I attribute some of my growth to being committed to a more mindful and zen life. I come back to the below quotes many times throughout the years. In the article below Patrick Allan deciphers these 4 quotes. Here are the main points (but be sure to read my highlights to develop a deeper understanding):
- Many people get caught up in the end result instead of going step by step. Focus on the task. Be present.
- Do every task (simple or complex, menial or important) as well as you can. Being the best is a habit.
- Make your life simple. When you’re hungry, eat. When you are tired, rest.
- “The quieter you become, the more you will hear”.
Chop Wood, Carry Water today.
Rule #11 from my book The Fantastic Life: The Growth Paradigm
Growth isn’t a given. You have to be dedicated to growing in the direction you want. Without mindful growth, you’ll have no control over your future.
Four “Confusing” Zen Quotes and What You Can Learn from Them
Zen is a branch of Buddhism that came about in China during the 6th century. So it has been around for a little while. Many of the teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes, however, and many of the lessons are still useful today.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Many of us get caught up in the end results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. But the truth is that getting to where you want to go or being successful doesn’t mean that the work that lead you there goes away. Achieving your version of “enlightenment” is not an endpoint in and of itself. You’ll need to do the same things after in order to keep moving forward. There’s a Zen philosophy that says the way a person does one thing is the way they do everything, and whether you agree with it or not, the message is clear. If you can’t take on the simple tasks as best as you can, how could you conquer the big things? As Tom Barrett explains on his blog Interlude Retreat, it’s all about being in the moment:
When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.
No matter how menial the task may seem, practicing mindfulness and focusing on the present work at hand will help you develop a habit of always doing your best. And once you finally achieve “enlightenment” you still must chop wood and carry water. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself.”
As strange as it sounds, sometimes it’s better to just do nothing. In our busy lives, we become focused on action and productivity, as if our world would stop moving if we stopped moving. The world goes on fine without your actions, and it goes on fine without you. Instead, think of ways to react to the world around you, or if you’re tired, do nothing at all. You can end up wasting all of your energy running around trying to find things to do. Stop banging your head against a keyboard and remember that sometimes it’s about letting things happen, not making them happen. As another Zen proverb explains, “the quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”
When you want to increase your productivity, sometimes it’s best to do nothing. In certain…
You might think that you have to be the one to do this or that, or that you’re the only one capable of handling things, but if you kicked the bucket, somebody else would fill your shoes. The grass grows by itself.
“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit; but whatever you do, don’t wobble.”
The advice from this saying is sound and simple to understand, yet difficult to put into practice. This day and age our attention is constantly being pulled a thousand different directions, with our focus going by the wayside. Not only is it important to be present in the moment when you do something, but it’s also important that you zone in as much as you can. If it’s time to work, just work. Empty your mind of the past of present and think about what needs to be done right then and there.Develop monk-like focus and eliminate distractions that may cause you to wobble. Give weight to your intentions and do exactly what you need to do.
The moment you get effortlessly lost in work goes by any number of names: focus, concentration,…
“When hungry, eat your rice; when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.”
Indeed, this saying does seem comical, but its simplicity is powerful. In our day to day lives we find a way to complicate everything. The food we eat, the work we do, the way we talk, the way we walk; everything has to “mean” something. Life would be much easier if you just responded to things appropriately. If you’re hungry, eat something. If you’re tired, get some rest. If you have work to complete, do your work. Stop wondering why you’re hungry, why you’re tired, or what the best way to do your work is and take a page out of Nike’s book. Just do it. It’s possible that your life could be much simpler than you make it out to be.
The intentions of these lessons hold up for the most part, but these can still be up to interpretation. Obviously the world isn’t the same as it was when these sayings came about, but the main aspects of life are, so how you apply them is up to you. The wisest of lessons stand the test of time.