“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water
after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water” –Zen Proverb
Challenges in life are the best thing that ever happens to you, and it sucks when you're in the middle of them hear this, but that's the point as well.
One of my many major life stumbles (as an entrepreneur, if you haven't had at least one, you will - it's part of the learning) led me to living in a tent for a year, the best I could afford at the time.
After trying so hard and losing it all, all I could see was the problem, It get bugging me, defining me, I couldn't get past it...looking back it's easy to say I blocked it, but then I just was trying to use my anger to get beyond it. Plus how it defined "losing it all" was only in terms of money and possessions, which in reality aren't anything at all, and you can't lose what isn't real.
That approach is doomed to failure, because being angry at what is never gets you past it. I reached out to a friend, complaining about what had happened and my current state with no way out.
He smiled and told me, "This is the best thing that ever happened to you."
Can't tell you how angry that made me, and not being one to hide my feelings, he could see the angry pumping through me like some mad river that in truth, was dry.
So he smiled, and it was knowing his friendship, and that he'd been around the block a few more times than me, that maybe there was something in that I should take to heart.
It wasn't easy, but I began each day trying to look at life that way, and like Yoda says, there's no try there's only do...tell me that back then, suffice to say at least I was trying.
Soon I started finding solutions, not major ones, just baby steps. And from living in that tent, I built a cabin out of cinder block, cement, and wood, something I've never had the skills to do - I could barely nail a nail, but I learned.
And in building that little cabin, which gave me warmth in the winter and shelter, I left the tent. I began doing things, now I'm not going to be a carpenter, but that little cabin helped me then and for 20 years after, something I'm so proud of, because I helped build it with my two hands.
At the same time I was living in my tent, I used this early service called AOL - 1991 to be exact - and I made a living, in my tent, sending research papers via email to a client in San Francisco. I remember having to crank up the generator to do my work, and you only have so much gas to run it, so I kept it focused and got the work done.
That helped me get off the hill - chopping wood, carrying water -- and back to a life I enjoy even more than living away. Yet that time to me really, to this day, is one of the best times of my life, because I found something in the so called abyss facing me.
I found myself, chopping wood and carrying water. Even today, though life is better than living in a tent, I'm still chopping wood and carrying water, when I'm happy or when circumstances make me stressed.
And I remember how this is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it is happening to me, and not just to me, by me. Because when I learned to move beyond this obessession with what was wrong, I began doing things that made it right.
Trust it, remember this, and help someone who's down, challenged by health or finances or emotions. We all have something in this wonderful challenge called life that will push you, prod you, to grow. A smile and a listening ear, like my friend lent me years ago, goes a long way.
Life is like a river washing by you, the rocks in the river, who over time get smoother, have less edges, because the river of life is there to shape you. Fight the current and you get broken, or worst washed up on the dry shore, thirsty for what's in the river you live in. When you ride the river, let it shape you, and know in your heart and being and DNA, that it's there to teach you, you'll find what you're looking for, right in front of your eyes.
Like the saying goes, even with enlightenment, you're chopping wood and carrying water. When you grow to appreciate and love that, and get so much out of what you do, the simple things, the smile a child gives you or the love of family or pets or whatever makes your heart sing.
For me, it was the howl of the wolves, the yip yips of the coyote, the sheer beauty of nature surrounding my tent that I never really noticed in my suburban upbringing. I began awakening to a beauty that though I had seen it, I'd never felt it.
Remember it's still there, always, in good times and bad.
Life is a limited time offer, be sure to get yours before it runs out ;-)