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Life’s passing by too fast, or so it seems. I complete 42 years in my present state of existence today. That’s around two-thirds of the average life expectancy of an Indian male.
While spiritualists would want me to believe that I have existed from anadi (before the beginning of cosmos) and will exist till ananta (infinity), I see forty-two years as a good enough time to find some meaning in one’s life. At least, my rapidly greying hair and receding hairline help me realize that.
Now, while it amazes me that I’ve been around that long — I feel like I’ve barely begun.
I’m not usually one to make a big deal about my birthday, but as always, it has given me an opportunity to reflect.
So, like I have done over the past few years –
– let me share one of the key life lessons that have guided my life over the years, especially the last few. It is a lesson I shared in my recent letter to my daughter , but is worth repeating. The lesson is contained in a story I read a few years back.
A young boy became a monk. He dreamed of enlightenment and learning great things. When he got to the monastery he was told that each morning he had to chop wood for the monks’ fires and then carry water up to the monastery for ablutions and the kitchen. He attended prayers and meditation, but the teaching he was given was rather sparse.
One day he was told to take some tea to the Abbot (head of the monastery). He did so and the Abbot saw he looked sad and asked him why. He replied, “Every day, all I do is chop wood and carry water. I want to learn. I want to understand things. I want to be great one day, like you.”
The Abbot said, “When I started I was like you. Every day I would chop wood and carry water. Like you, I understood that someone had to do these things, but like you, I wanted to move forward. Eventually, I did. I read all of the scriptures, I met with Kings and gave council. I became the Abbot. Now, I understand that the key to everything is that everything is chopping wood and carrying water and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same.”
Many of us get caught up in the end results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something.
I lived the same way till a few years back.
I thought that once I achieved some future state – promotion, financial independence, enlightenment, the top of the mountain, etc. – I will finally be content. I lived in the future or the past … in my head.
But the truth is that none of these destinations brought me any lasting contentment. Further, getting to where I wanted to go or being “successful” never meant that the work that led me there went away. Instead, I realized that contentment can only be found in every ‘now,’ in being fully present with ordinary daily activities – with chopping wood and carrying water.
It’s only when I was able to find fulfillment in life’s ordinary activities – like eating, walking, writing, cleaning the floor, or washing dishes – I could finally be at peace. It was just me, and my doing. And I realized, this is all that mattered. In this, there was everything.
You see, once you finally achieve “enlightenment,” you must still chop wood and carry water. You must still do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.
Tom Barrett explained on his blog Interlude Retreat –
We travel to the ocean or to mountains, rivers and canyons, in part to escape the mundane world of work, but also to experience the awe that arises more spontaneously in nature’s magnificence. We give ourselves an incredible gift when we can experience some of the same awe in the mundane world of our daily lives. The weed that grows in the crack of a sidewalk is a phenomenon as miraculous as the redwood tree that towers into the sky. The raindrops that streak the window are no less an occasion for awe than the spray that dampens our face at the waterfall. The fingers that tap a keyboard are as worthy of praise as the feet of a ballet dancer.
When we open awareness to the tasks in our lives they become lighter. When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden.
Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.
As I look back at these forty-two years, I have run into quite a few bumps and climbed over a few mountains, chopped a lot of wood, and carried a lot of water. And who hasn’t?
But the fact that I have survived to tell you the tale makes me realize how lucky I am to be here, right now, writing these words. And how grateful I should be, every waking moment, for this miracle called “life.”
Value Investing Almanack (VIA) – Special Offer Ends TODAY: VIA, our premium newsletter that subscribers call “the best resource on Value Investing in India,” which was closed for new subscriptions for the past few months, is now accepting new members, and at a very special 55% discount, or Rs 9,000 off the base price! Click here to join now .