It's a modern paraphrasing of a very old Zen koan, or short parable. It's been pretty well used to death in the modern age, unfortunately. I've heard it in places as diverse as coffee houses and on Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. It's been used so often that it's lost it's original meaning, having been covered in a kind of common-use-polyurethane varnish, like the grain of sand that's been long since hidden under the layers of a pearl, only the koan hasn't survived half as well as that grain of sand.
This weekend: there I was. Saturday morning I physically exhausted myself by walking three miles in the company of Vulgar Wizard, helping our company represent itself in the American Heart Association's Heart Walk. Three lovely miles sweating along brick-paved streets (we still have a few of those here) through the lovely Garden District of the city, and then back to the starting point. Helped very briefly with taking down our banners and table, and then home.
Ordinarily, I would have crashed for the rest of the day trying to recover from pushing myself too hard, but this time, due perhaps to a regular diet of oatmeal, bananas and sweet tea, mixed with vitamin supplements and regular light exercise, my body decided to keep on moving. So, I worked in the yard. I ended up spending several back-breaking hours cultivating (by tractor) and rowing up (by hand) a good-sized garden for my wife. Four neat rows, each about twenty five feet long, ready to be weeded and sown and reaped.
If that wasn't enough I decided that I needed to tackle all seven loads of laundry, so off I went into a domestic frenzy; sorting, washing, drying, the works.
Not happy with that being underway, unappeased by fingers that refused to uncramp from around the hoe and eyes reddened from laundry detergent dust in the air, I decided that I needed to do more. I dragged twenty cinder blocks from various hiding places in the shed out to the yard to line a ragged bed full of azaleas.
Now that the bed was nicely defined, I decided that I wanted to drag out that antique single-row cultivating plow that's been lurking around the storage shed for lo these thirty or so years. I found the old handle and decided that what this old plow needed was a good sanding, some fresh paint, and a new pair of wooden handles. Losing the light, however, I decided to put that project ahead to next weekend, and displayed what there is of the plow in my rose bed, there to await the arrival of next weekend.
Having gotten all this accomplished, and feeling that strange tightness in my chest, and those shooting pains down my left arm I decided that I had done enough to be satisfied, and it was time to stop and take stock of what I had accomplished.
That's when it got really good. Physical labour is, for me, a wonderful therapy. The feeling of accomplishment makes everything better, makes all the troubles seem distant. So I poured a big cup of tea, lit up a Puros Indios Churchill cigar, and took a rest in my favourite chair out on the patio, there to sit, smoke, and watch the cats play. I sat and watched the birds, the squirrels, the cats and everything else that came my way, much to my heart's content. And that's when it happened--I realised that since that morning I had stopped TRYING and had started LIVING in the Now, finally seeing the goal of all my years of studying meditation and the Zen Buddhist ways. All throughout the day I had been living each moment for what it was, not trying to live in the future, full of "I wish I could's" and "Maybe tomorrow I can's" and such. And I wasn't living in the past, remembering glory days and trying to be there again. Granted I had fallen in and out of it, but I had finally seen the goal, seen what it could be like if I keep striving.
For the first time in a very long time I was right where I needed to be: in the present. Fully rooted, fully content. It was an astounding feeling.
And then about an hour later Life kicked back in, but that's okay. I got a taste of what I have been striving for all these years, and having once seen the door I think I'll have an easier time getting back there again.