Chop Wood

Perform a Miracle! When Walking, Just Walk

In my last post I wrote that you, and I, and the earth that sustains us  are so incredibly improbable as to be next to impossible.  Furthermore, I wrote that what’s next to impossible is a miracle. Therefore I concluded, we and the earth are miracles.  A reasonable corollary follows from this conclusion, my miraculous friend.  It’s that since you are a miracle, even before you fix breakfast, everything you do is an extremely rare and wondrous event in the universe.  You and everything about you is a wonder, a one of a kind thing.  So, don’t hesitate to feel good about paying attention to what you do.  When walking, just walk.  When eating, relax, savor, just eat.

“If hungry, eat; if tired close your eyes. People may laugh…, but the wise  know.” ~ Zen Saying

There is a story in Zen lore about an awkward first meeting between two monks from different Buddhist schools. The first monk proudly declared, “My Master flies great distances in the blink of an eye.  He chases away demons with a shout.” Following this not-so-humble declaration, he asked the Zen monk, “What miracles can your Master perform?”  The Zen monk replied, “This morning my Master swept the snow from the front gate.”

The miracle is not to walk on burning charcoal or in the thin air or on the water; the miracle is just to walk on earth. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

As you know, we humans can perform miracles beyond walking and eating. For example, we can imagine worlds other than the world we live in. We imagine past worlds and future worlds, heavens and hells, and all flavors of worlds in between.

The upside to the miracle of imagination is an immeasurable good.  For example, before there was a vaccine for polio, Jonas Salk imagined one.  Likewise, before Thelonious Monk revolutionized jazz, he imagined Epistropy.

Miracles Sometimes Have a Downside

But, the downside to the capacity to imagine other worlds and other kinds of beings is that many people try to off-load their responsibility for their lives onto imagined others in imagined worlds.  We know some people spend their whole lives waiting for someone or something to lift them above this life’s uncertainty, pain, and disappointment.  In this style of living, one forgets that this very life is enough. This life is the miracle we’re hoping for, the answer to all our prayers.

Pema Chodron puts it like this:

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. Theism is a deep seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for something to protect ourselves…Nontheism is realizing that it’s not just babysitters that come and go. The whole of life is like that.  This is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.

On the downside, that is, we can use the miracle of our imagination to try to avoid growing up.

In Zen practice some say:

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” ~Zen saying

In Zen practice we are encouraged to pay attention to the many miraculous, but sometimes inconvenient, things we need to do in this everyday life.  This paying attention to all the details in life is the Zen way.  Other Buddhist schools call this commitment and cultivation of moment-to-moment attention to all our activities Mindfulness practice.

Chopped wood is good. It can keep us warm. We cook our food with it.  But chopped wood can be hard to come by if we don’t chop it ourselves. Chopping wood is not always convenient. Water keeps everything clean and quenched and well watered even though water can be hard to carry and treacherous to fetch in winter.  Chopping wood and carrying water and Zen are not the stuff of some other world.  They are taking care of life in this sacred, miraculous world we already know, love, and depend on.  As far as anyone knows, this is the only world we’ll ever have to live and play and work in.

The cornerstone teaching on Buddhist meditation is called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  Meditation practitioners can discover deep states of meditative concentration, calm, and insight by applying the guidance in this text.  The following Zen saying is an expression of the spirit and letter of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness:

“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit; but whatever you do, don’t wobble.”

Give your awareness to walking if you’re walking, your attention to sitting when sitting. Don’t be distracted.  Be present and at ease.

Here is a link to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness:

Here’s a link to last week’s post:

I hope you enjoy the miracle this week!