Chop Wood, Carry Water

It may sound strange, but one of the things I am really going to miss is scrubbing out the sinks in the studio.

As the Zen Koan goes, "Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

No, I am not claiming to be enlightened. I'd like to think that I could stop cussing at the endless string of red lights on Poplar Street if I were. But I do believe that doing simple, yet useful things diligently and mindfully just might be a path to getting there.

And thus it is that every Friday evening, I unlock the door to the empty studio and commit to care for the space. I unfurl the studio mats and on hands and knees wipe each one down to clean and disinfect it, knowing that they are a place of learning. I push a mop across the floors on which bare feet will tread, and gently wipe down the cubby holes where students put their care aside (along with bags and phones) while they practice wrapping their bodies around the breath. I scrub the toilet and cleanse both sinks, so utilitarian and yet so important. I dust the silent gong and say a soft "hello, you" to Ganesh as I rub the cherry wood of the statue to a shine.

Thich Nhat Hanh has observed that to focus completely on the most prosaic of tasks is to find joy in them. To take the time, being aware of each movement and each sensation, is to realize that the opportunity to do these tasks is a precious gift. "To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them."

When you do the dishes, do the dishes, he urges.

And when you empty the trash, empty the trash. And so it is that these Friday evenings, alone in a quiet studio, I am able to truly feel the nurturing qualities it exudes. As my muscles push and pull, sweeping the mop back in forth in giant arcs, or when I stretch to my fullest height to dust away a stray cobweb, I know deep down in my bones how my effort and care helps to sutain that nurturance. I am present and I am doing physical, menial, easily overlooked work as a true labor of love. 

I will miss teaching. I will miss chatting over tea and welcoming people as they enter the studio. But I sure will also miss cleaning those sinks.