There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”
What is the spiritual value of chopping wood and carrying water?
When we rely on our own will, our ability to create and do something with our hands, we tap into the fundamental energies available to us by living here on earth. These primary energies support us in many ways; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is essential, in fact, to connect with these energies to gain full enlightenment. Although we have made incredible industrial and technological advancements as humans, our over-dependence on the multitude of modern conveniences has restricted our ability to receive the gifts of these elemental forces.
Our spiritual ascension into higher realms of consciousness is deeply linked to how we live on earth. We can spend a majority of our time meditating, reading spiritual books, and attending church, but this is only a fraction of our work. As whole beings, we are most in alignment when we actively bring love and consciousness to all areas of our lives. Living mindfully into the basic and mundane aspects of life is an important part of our awakening.
When we look at the greater spiritual picture, right now many of us are experiencing challenges in the areas represented by our lowest chakras – our primal connections to living on earth in human form. Money, our need and ability to work, our connection to earth and our “survival” are areas of focus in this phase of our evolutionary process. We are “cleaning house” so to speak and this, more often than not, can be uncomfortably messy and hard to do.
Wanting is not a bad thing. In fact, our souls wanted to be incarnated, and so we came into existence. Many of us wanted to create or be a part of something bigger in these incarnations; we wanted to make a difference or bring an intention to planet Earth. Yet, wanting can lead us down a path of more wanting. We can feel empty and unsatisfied with what we have or where we are in our lives. Our desires can feel like insatiable dragons always needing more.
Do we need more?
At this time in our lives, we do need more. We need more simplicity, more time for ourselves, more nothingness to feel the void (not fill it) so we can experience the essence of who we are. Our souls are calling for us to become who we really are… now.
How do we become more of who we are?
One way to connect with who we really are is to rid ourselves of what we think we want or need; we can practice non-attachment. When we release our desires for having more, we have more opportunities to experience who we are and where we are in our lives (good or bad). We become more present with what is… now.
How do we release our desires for more?
As a consumer-driven society, our entire environment is bombarded with pressures to do, have and be more. We do our best to keep up, acquire and become who we think we are supposed to be. Unfortunately, we often fall short of societal and self-approval.
“MORE!” We press onward in our desire to feel better about ourselves and our lives.
Though not an exhausted list, here are a few suggestions for taming the dragon of desire:
Why is simplicity so difficult?
We live in a culture that thrives on doing and accumulating. Removing ourselves from this reality is not easy. Choosing simplicity is counter-cultural.
First, we are social beings and like to feel connected to others. When others are engaged in faster-paced lifestyles it can be hard to disconnect; we can feel isolated.
Time can feel like an enemy of simplicity, as well. With all the to do's in our lives, there doesn't ever seem to be enough time. Our entire human-created schedule puts work at the forefront of how we spend most of our days with a tiny slice left to do everything else; we get the bonus of a couple of days "off."
Another obstacle in releasing our hold on the cultural demands is money. We all need it (hence those five devotional days to the god called Work). Even if we minimize what we must have to a trunk load of essentials, we still need a place to rest that trunk (and ourselves, of course) and food to keep us alive.
Simplicity, however, can be something we strive toward. It can make room for more joyful social connections as well as bring mindfulness to how we spend our time and money.
Simplicity begins with choices.
Is your life getting busier and busier? Do you need a simple living guide?
We tend to live in a hectic and overly busy society. In just 24 hours we are expected to work eight or more hours, commute to and from our workplace, exercise for at least 20 minutes (if not an hour), eat three balanced meals, take our daily vitamins, shuffle our children to various extra-curricular activities, walk our dogs, and, if we are on the spiritual path, meditate for 10 to 20 minutes, plus get a good night’s sleep!
Oh, and we can’t forget those weekly (or more) to do’s that are sprinkled in; keep the house straightened, give it a deep cleaning once a week, grocery shop, take that evening business or self-improvement class, tend to the garden, wash the car, the laundry and the kids, scoop pet poop, and go to church.
Wait, there’s more! Dentist appointments, car tune-ups and maintenance, community volunteering, haircuts, the kids’ games or meets, class parent meetings, regular veterinarian visits, monthly book club, and those well anticipated family vacations and three-day weekends that we call “getaways.”
As we meander through fall, we find ourselves experiencing more and more darkness. The mornings offer little, if any, light at hours that used to shine brightly. Our evenings are shortened as the sun drops into the western horizon and calls it a night at dinnertime. Although this happens to us every year at this time, it can still take us by surprise when we find ourselves in darkness at hours that used to bustle with activity and plenty of light.
In days past, our bodies and activities were more in tune with the changing of the seasons. We planned our farming and harvesting according to this natural cycle, as well as all areas of our lives. Today, however, we have modern conveniences that allow us to keep the lifestyle and pace moving briskly along, often making this transition from Summer to Fall a bit more shocking.
I can't believe it's dark already! Where did the time go? I still have much to do even though it's dark outside!
Fall is a time to reap our summer's harvest and settle into the simplicity of our lives.
For those who are gardeners, the harvest-time is evident; crops are changing accordingly, or laying to rest until Spring. Yet, for those who buy our produce, we merely wonder why some fruits are harder to find, why the costs of certain veggies have gone up or down, or why some don't taste as good as they used to just a few months ago.
Yet even today's gardener may not have the settling-into-the-simplicity-of-our-lives part down. In our current culture of "full speed ahead" - at LIGHT speed, mind you - we often don't know what this looks like or means.
Slow down? Simplicity? Not with my schedule! I'd sink, for sure!
Darkness offers us a time to slow down. When it's harder to see, we tend to walk slower so we don't trip. However, with flashlights, houselights and driving lights en masse, we expect ourselves to use this technology and keep on going.
It is wise to note that our bodies and spirits remember the natural cycles even if our minds and schedules don't. No matter how much caffeine and to-do's we pump into our systems, our bodies are getting sluggish and tired. Naturally, we have a need for longer nights of sleep. Our energy doesn't seem to last as long as we wish; our pace slows down significantly. Our wise spirits are calling for simplicity and ease. We desire the predictability of rhythm and routine. We yearn for heart-felt connections in small groups and longer periods of solitude.
How can you honor your body's and spirit's need to enter the darkness of Fall with grace?
We only get three months of each season; why not enjoy them? Fall offers us a chance to slow down, reap our harvest and create simplicity in our lives... not to mention some amazing and vibrant colors!
Many years ago, I read a book by Sarah Ban Breathnach called Simple Abundance: A Day Book of Comfort and Joy, and absolutely loved it. It was a time in my life when I felt like I didn’t have very much, but desired desperately to feel abundant. In times of economic uncertainty, we are all feeling those pangs of desire for both simplicity and abundance, I’m sure.
Over the course of mothering my four children, I have found that simplicity actually creates a sacred space for abundance to flourish. I have not had any credit cards since 2000, I don’t have a cell phone or laptop computer, I own a modest TV which is only used for an occasional movie rental (and doesn’t even work for television), and I have gone without a microwave for at least six years. By refraining from some things people nowadays consider “basic”, I have experienced the “comfort and joy” in not having these modern day conveniences. In the simplicity of my lifestyle, it has been easier for me to remember and connect with the things that are truly important to me.
Living without a television in my child-filled home isn’t as difficult as people might think. “What do your kids do?” people wonder. They play, read, go outside, or do nothing at all. To watch a child be in the nothing at all space can be uncomfortable for adults who are so used to doing, doing, doing in the name of productivity. Yet, it’s in the nothingness that all things are born. With the simplicity of space and imagination the world is infinitely abundant in the hearts of children at play.
What would you do with your time – for relaxation, play or entertainment – if it wasn’t being filled with something that isn’t truly important to you? How does it feel to you to do nothing at all?
Although I may not be able to find a pay phone when I need one, I have found the generosity of strangers instead. Inevitably when I walk into a store, library or other venue and ask, “Is there a pay phone around here?” the person behind the counter offers me his or her cell phone to use. In this way, I have made more than the connection I was originally seeking.
What ways do you most enjoy connecting with others? What would it be like to experience dis-connection for a day or more? Who do you connect with in your life?
Taking the time to cook our family meals takes no more time than using a microwave. I always found it odd to see the directions for “Microwave Use” vs. “Stovetop” to be only a matter of tiny minutes. The taste (not to mention conservation of nutrients) is worth the wait; it allows time for my children to help set the table before our family sits around it, blesses our food and eats together.
What would it be like to slow down and savor your life? Who would you spend time with? What do you bless every day?
In this time of rapid change and uncertainty, we yearn for stability; it’s a natural response. If we remember that true stability is offered by a good foundation, we can begin to evaluate, and perhaps rebuild, the foundation of our lives with things that are most important to us. Whatever we add to the foundation is up to each of us, of course. In my own experience, keeping things simple (by not adding too much) has kept me closer to my foundation – my family – which allows me to feel both its stability as well as its abundance.
What’s most important to you in your life? What do you want to build on that foundation, and will it bear the weight of what you are adding? Is there anything you can do to create more stability, or do you notice that it is already strong and abundant?