Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
October: Chop wood/carry water
A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition. ~ David Whyte
I love that old Zen phrase "chop wood, carry water." It brings me down to earth every time I get too wrapped up in the realms of mind or spirit - because even too much spirit isn’t a good thing! We are still physical beings inhabiting a physical body in a physical world. Whether we like it or not, we still have to take out the trash, brush our teeth, pay bills.
After my divorce in late 2015 (following a twenty-year marriage), I went on a spiritual deep dive that ended up lasting two full years. During that period I burrowed deep within myself, spending a huge amount of time reading, writing, meditating and attending classes on personal growth. Looking back now, I jokingly refer to the sterile suburban apartment where I lived as my Himalayan cave! In many ways I was truly living the life of a monk on a spiritual quest.
But eventually the seasons of life change. Recently I moved to a tiny but very cool apartment in the city. The game of life is swirling all around me here, and I'm itching to get off the bench and join in again. It’s as if the past two years of going inward have finally taught me the rules that were never clear when I was playing before. Suddenly my trajectory has changed and I’m focusing outward, eager to take what I’ve learned and test it out on the gritty playing field we call the “real world.” (Never mind that one of the rules is that it’s all actually just an illusion!)
Not that I’m abandoning my inner work – the goal is to take it with me into everyday life. I still meditate, read, journal, say my affirmations. I turned a whole wall of my new bedroom into a giant vision board that I can see from my bed. But I also went out and got a “real” job outside the house (just a regular old job hosting in a restaurant, which I’ve never done before). Joined a gym. Bought some clothes that were not yoga pants and sneakers. Thought about dating (okay – not very seriously). Got some blonde highlights that I immediately regretted.
Let me emphasize that I didn’t leave my cave because I thought I should (and I didn’t go into it in the first place that way either). It wasn’t a decision I made with my mind – it just happened. After my divorce I needed the time apart to process and understand where I had lost sight of myself. It was a restless, ungrounded feeling that told me that phase was ending. To be honest, it’s scary to leave the cave – but then, it was scary to enter it in the first place. We can never know how long a phase will last or where it will lead, however much the mind craves the answers ahead of time.
And, in reality, these phases are simply opposite sides of the same coin. It’s neither better nor worse to be spiritually or physically focused – we can get to the same place by taking either route. For me, for now, it’s about toting that barge and lifting that bale. But my prayer shawl is still hanging on the back of my door, waiting for me!
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