In our search for an authentic life, we tend to spend most of our time “out there,” sure that if we just find the right teacher, the right philosophy, the right mindset, we will have what we need to build the life we so richly deserve. For all of our searching, we always forget to keep coming back to that place where we started and, as T.S. Eliot told us, “and to know it for the first time.” We keep forgetting to come home to ourselves, to the day-to-day reality of who we are without all the bells and whistles. Just us, and the quiet, reassuring actions of our lives that build a strong foundation on the one hand, yet still provides a safe place to fall on the other.
My favorite Zen teachings revolve around this idea: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Part of living an authentic life is to acknowledge and, yes, even come to love the simple, every day things that are required to get through a day: cooking a meal, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking a shower, walking the dog, scrubbing the floor. All of these things are who we are as much as our careers, our passions and our pain. When we embrace these simple tasks with attention, mindfulness and appreciation, everything else in our life becomes an exercise in mindfulness and appreciation as well.
I’ve started to really enjoy washing the dishes, a task I was never very fond of even from childhood when I had to take turns with my sisters doing the dinner dishes every night. Now I pay attention to how good the warm water and suds feel on my hands, the smell of the dish soap (I’m fond of citrus), the feel of the dirt washing off and leaving a clean, smooth surface behind. I appreciate the fact that I have warm water and indoor plumbing. When I’m done wiping down the counter, I stand back to appreciate the stacks of clean dishes, glasses and silverware, all shiny and drying in the dish rack. Now I am taking that same mindfulness to making the bed, washing and folding the laundry, cooking my meals and whatever else needs doing. These are no longer chores. They are part of who I am at my core. They are part of coming home to myself. How much more authentic and open I am when I sit down to write after having completed my daily chores. What comes out of my inspiration and on to the page originates from the same place that washing the dishes comes from: from my true, authentic self.
Peace and blessings.