Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chop wood, stay warm

Like most of the Northeastern U.S., New Jersey is currently a frozen block of ice right now. My household is scrambling for firewood to heat our downstairs, and consequently, most of our house. We have a couple of log rounds in the backyard that a friend graciously gave us so I set to chopping them.

I'm in decent physical condition--been better, but I've been in worse shape too--yet there are few activities as demanding for me as splitting wood with an axe. I'm fairly large, over 200 lbs, so I get winded pretty quickly. Yet I love it!

Maybe it's Ch'an nostalgia filling my body--the romance of working outdoors like the old Masters whose maxim was, "No work, no food"--but there is an exhilaration to chopping one's own wood, knowing that soon the wood will heat my home.

After half a dozen heavy swings, I find myself leaning against the house, panting. There is no "I" at moments like these, only...pantpantpant!

The whole world is one giant, panting, frozen lung.

Then I'm back at it, hefting the clumsy maul over my head. Wood splits and my arms grow heavy. Sweat fills my hat and my glasses steam up.

I'm leaning against the wall again. Or rather, there is only "leaning against the wall." No one is doing it. There's no volition involved. If my body doesn't lean, it'll double over in search of oxygen.

Many times Zen practice does not take place in the Dharma room or on the cushion. Just swinging the axe, lugging the triangles of wood, that is life as it is.

No "I" is necessary. Losing ourselves in our lives, what more we can ask? Paradoxically, I feel most alive when there's no "I" present.

Eventually Zen must transcend Zen.

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