There is an old quote that reads:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”Zen Proverb
The meaning of the quote comes from a story about a young boy that desired to become a monk in order to attain enlightenment and a full life. As an apprentice in the monastery, he was told each day to chop wood and carry water for the daily needs of the elders. This happened for a long period of time in addition to the training he received through prayers, meditation, and teaching.
One day, he was taking tea to the head of the monastery, the Abbott, who saw that the young boy was sad and asked him why.
The boy shared about his great desire to learn and wasn’t sure of his contributions, because all he felt that he had been doing was chopping wood and carrying water.
The Abbott explained that he started the same way when he was young in doing the menial tasks for others as he also learned from the elders. But, it wasn’t until he was older that he understood that the key to everything was “chopping wood and carrying water” for others with a total sense of commitment, determination, and mindfulness.
The message in the story is that we may not always find meaning in our work or understand the purpose (or even our purpose) in the moment. But, it’s important that we seek our contentment in being fully present at the task at hand with a sense of joy and peace. It’s crucial to take time to step back and look at the big picture, beyond what we may think to understand, to see the total value and purpose in our work.
We need to fight against our perceptions from what social media and movies portray; miraculous moments don’t always happen quickly, and there may not always be cheering from others or beautiful music being played in the background while we work.
Joshua Medcalf wrote the book Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great that shares virtues and lessons about this truth in the format of a fable. In this case, the main character John is studying to become a samurai. Throughout the book, Medcalf unveils life lessons about the need to embrace the daily work, look for small wins, and seek fulfillment from within.
It’s not that I believe my life is mundane; it’s more about embracing the personal goal of contentment and purpose. So, for 2023, I commit my One Word to Chop! In order to anchor myself, I created this acronym based on my four principles to: C.H.O.P. –
- C = Create Opportunities. While I work day to day, I commit to creating opportunities that will challenge myself which allow me to learn new skills and help others more. I’ll also look for opportunities to include others along in the journey or help them in theirs.
- H = Halt Comparisons. As I continue to work and live, I commit to not compare my progress or work against others. I will choose to focus on my life and progress in my outward and inward self. By focusing on my progress, my hope is not to get distracted on the outcome as being the only reward.
- O = Overcome Negativity. Too often, I let negative voices in my head direct my thinking which sometimes creates anxiety and worry. The “stories in my head” can also deter me from opportunities or even harm relationships that may not even be real. Therefore, I commit to not allow negativity to guide my work, thoughts, and actions.
- P = Plan for the Future. While I will be better at being present in the moment and embracing each interaction and work as an opportunity to learn and grow, I commit to also plan for the future. I will be begin to create more solid goals with focused plans to achieve them. I will also set small milestones and celebrate them along the way in order to ensure I am on track as well as keep myself motivated to keep pursuing farther.
In addition to the principles above to keep me anchored, I selected a song that will also help to inspire and encourage my One Word throughout the year. One of my favorite bands, Skillet has a song called Legendary (Spotify, Youtube). Contrary to the title or at first impression of the song, the lead singer John Cooper shared that we probably won’t be remembered or legendary during or past our life. The message isn’t about doing something so monumental to be remembered forever, it’s about making your life count in every moment. Especially when no one is around. The goal is to live each moment in a fight to be legendary.
I’m definitely excited for 2023! My family will be experiencing high milestones, and I feel there will be great things ahead. Regardless of those outward appearances or circumstances, I commit to not getting caught up in the negativity or mundane, as I CHOP in 2023!
This is so perfect.
Thanks, John! I appreciate you taking the time to read it!