Cleaning the bathroom or chopping the onions is no less important than sitting in deep meditation. Grasping this and acting on it is called waking up.

—Janet Jiryu Abels, “Participate Fully”

Justin Parmelee/Flickr

“Chop wood, carry water” is a Zen saying. In other words, just do what you are doing, nothing more, nothing less.

As Yoda would say, Simple it is not. Chopping onions, I almost chopped off the tip of my left index finger. I had to wrap my hand in a tea towel and sit down, and reconsider my entire life while the tea towel bloomed red.

Chop onion. That simple directive, the one that is in every cookbook repeated about a thousand times is actually quite complicated. Nowhere does it say, “Be careful and don’t chop your finger off, dumbass.”

“I’m chopping an onion,” is what I say now, when I’m chopping an onion. I have to really concentrate on this. I’m. Chopping. An. Onion. Who is this “I”? What is the action called chopping? And what is an onion? What is this appendage called a finger?

You can go kind of deep, but it’s not necessary; what is necessary is half a cup.

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