Reflections, Uncategorized

Chop Wood, Carry Water

I landed yesterday in Colorado for a weeklong visit to the Southwest and family and today I am tired. I love the high desert; its mountains call me home and the air fills my lungs with an indescribable sweet freshness. But travel and altitude adjustment wears me down. 

I realized how dire my state was when, on the phone, I turned suddenly defensive and felt deflated in a simple exchange with my husband. I knew I had to acknowledge my state and plan my day accordingly.

Altitude Sickness, also called Mountain Sickness, is common when traveling rapidly to significantly higher altitudes than one is used to. Symptoms can include: 

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Shortness of breath

This trip, I am grateful to be only experiencing the fatigue and difficulty sleeping, primarily. I know from experience that tomorrow I’ll feel practically normal. For today, I am slogging as gently as I can.

(I did not chop this wood.)

My friend, Laura, a practicing Buddhist for years while I stayed in the “maybe-I’m-Buddhist” flirtation stage, would often say the phrase to me, Chop Wood, Carry Water. I haven’t thought of it for ages. Perhaps it is seeing the pile of beautifully prepared firewood next to the woodstove here or the fact that many people here do still carry their water (albeit in large cisterns, in the back of a pick-up truck). 

A perfunctory internet search, all I can muster, tells me the full quotation is: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” It can be interpreted in many ways, but I’ve learned it as remembering to be present to the task at hand. That no one gets a free pass. To show up to the prosaic parts of life just as fully as the compelling. It reminds me that our experience is not about the external; it is not about what is happening: it is about how we are responding internally. 

So today I am remembering to Chop Wood, Carry Water. I’m doing the tasks at hand, as fully as possible. I’m being present so as not to metaphorically chop off my foot or spill all the drinking water to the ground. I’m consuming extra fluids, taking generous inhalations from my canned oxygen and cuddling with my sister’s cat. Sitting with the San Juan mountains picturesque sprawl, I’m submitting essays for potential publication one slow entry at a time. Saving visiting and more vigorous activities for tomorrow is the best way I can honor today.

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