Chop wood, carry water. Bake cookies, make fruit leather?
In 2019, I participated in a powerful group of women digging deep into themselves as they joined Tanis Frame's 9 month program, Decide to Thrive. On one particular day, on a zoom call with 20 other women, back when zoom felt like a novelty rather than an expectation, I had my camera off as I listened in stirring something on the stove. I heard Tanis say the words "chop wood, carry water" and I had an embodied "ah ha" moment as though this very simple, yet profound teaching was right in front of me. From that time on, when life feels stormy, I can generally find my footing once I rest into the basic needs right in front of me.
See, I can spin a cycle of "what ifs" WAY too easily. My mind can race ahead, running through scenarios, finding potential disasters like finding dead ends in a maze. My very calm sister-in-law once said to a very panicked me, "this might not mean what you think it means". This simple statement alerted me to a habit of mine, a self-harming behavioural rut that must helped me stay safe at some point but was obviously longer serving me.
One Sunday in February, I sat down to write a mid-term and became flooded with the many rabbit holes my mind raced through as it played out scenarios connected to each line of a draft 'Code of Ethics' we were asked to contribute to. With a strong sense of integrity, the
origins of which I continue to practice curiosity with, I find ethical deliberations particularly activating as a deeply feeling human. I aim to do the least amount of harm to others, constantly weighing the costs and benefits of my actions on human and other-than-human beings. The helplessness I feel due to my inability to help all beings, a profoundly human limitation, can project as righteousness.
As I noticed it arise, I attempted to move on in the assignment, noting I could come back to it later. But I couldn't move on... I paced beside my computer then sat back down again and followed the digital rabbit hole. I researched ethical associations in my jurisdiction, investigated the steps to report ethical violations in various sectors, looked at ethics review policies, inquired about consequences for ethical breaches... my heart was pounding, my ears likely steaming.
Wait. Stop. This isn't helping.
Deep breath. Long exhale. Four more just like it.
Like a whisper from my heart I hear, "Chop wood, carry water."
I stepped away from the computer and out of my mental and emotional spiral of doom and into the reliably mundane. In my case make dinner, prepare for the week. But first, my reliable companion, a chocolate lab named Murphy, has me conditioned to get out for a walk with him every afternoon when I step back from my computer. The walk helps, I process my activation with my partner, applying Tara Brach's principle of RAIN to move through the experience with compassion for myself and others. Some energy of activation lingers when I return home so I decide to continue avoiding the computer and stick to meeting basic needs.
After dinner, my family retreats to their crafts and reading as I look at preparing for the week. With my partner going out of town for a few days, more work to do on this mid-term, and plans to be a driver for my daughters field trip on the calendar, I know how valuable this preparation will be. Taking a couple of hours to prepare snacks now is like gifting an easy button to future me so I set to work.
I place a pot on the stove, fill it with frozen blueberries and raspberries from last summer's harvest, topping it off with pear sauce before cooking it down to combine the flavours and evaporate some of the liquid. While it bubbles on the stove, I make a family favourite, a batch of chocolate chip cookies, for this week's lunches.
The cookies helped. The periodic stirring of the fruit sauce helped. There was a beauty to the ease of these simple tasks, like a release from the pressure to think critically while surfing the waves of emotion evoked in my heart while studying. Instead, I take in the warm, sweet scent of summer fruits containing the promise of a sweeter tomorrow as I spread the puree over the dehydrator sheets.
Bake cookies, make fruit leather. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
And tomorrow, there will be fruit leather!