if you let me have the ordinary

“You may have the extraordinary for your province, if you will let me have the ordinary. Give me the obscure life, the cottage of the poor and humble, the workdays of the world, the barren fields, the smallest share of all things but poetic perception. Give me but the eyes to see the things which you possess.”

Henry David Thoreau (Journals- August 28th, 1851)

For years, I thought the phrase, “chop wood, carry water,” was simply about the importance of process. It is not about the result, but showing up everyday for the work.

However, last night I discovered the whole Zen Buddhism saying which is:

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

I don’t think my original definition was far off, but after reading it, it became more about finding meaning/worth in the mundane tasks. It is not about what you are seeing but how you choose to see it. Not about the thing you are doing, but how you choose to do it. The monotonous daily tasks are the thing, rather than a means to an end.

Then, today I was reading Thoreau and came across the above passage.

Some poets and artists take the deepest tragedies or most extraordinary events of their lives and write about them, but writers and poets like Thoreau and Oliver take the most “boring” moments of their lives and point to them.

There is no hierarchy to art, but I think it’s Thoreau’s ability to bring the reader back to the daily that keeps me coming back to their work daily.

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