Chop wood, carry water. According to an old Zen parable, this is what we do before enlightenment. And it’s what we do after. In other words: enlightenment is no big deal. The small rituals that sustain life are as important as our bigger dreams. This is especially true at the waning Moon. It’s time to slow down, move wisely, paring down effort to the essentials. I’d like to think the old Zen masters knew this too, practicing enlightenment of the lunar kind.
At the waning Moon: Chop wood. Literally. Logs that just won’t burn (filled with sap) have been cut at the wrong Moontime. When the Moon wanes, life force draws underground, into the roots, into the Earth. Sap descends. The wood in trees is drier now, good for burning. Fruits are less juicy, good for canning (they won’t spoil as quickly). Your body is dry, retaining less fluid; a good time for detoxing. So: Carry water. And drink it!.
After the Moon is full, her light diminishes each night to finally disappear altogether. According to gardening wisdom, it’s during these two waning weeks that the Earth withdraws also, taking energy into herself, away from above ground things. Is this a “force” of the Moon? Or a natural like-mindedness?
I suspect the Earth knows a good idea when she sees one. After the New Moon she’ll begin her long exhale, sending energy outward, to strengthen all growing things. But now she wisely goes inward, balancing out-breath with in-breath. To follow the natural rhythm, we should bring our projects to completion after the full Moon and avoid starting new ones until the next cycle begins. Especially in the fourth quarter, we should rest, contemplate, dream.
But generally we don’t. Which is why an astrologer friend has dubbed this the “whining” Moon. Movement and growth are as enticing to us as enlightenment to Zen practitioners. When isn’t there a project that could use an energetic boost from Earth and sky? What can we do when it’s not the time to build and grow?
We could start by recognizing there are some things we don’t want to grow. Mow your lawn on a waning Moon and it won’t grow back so fast. The same applies to weeds—and fingernails. If you want your haircut to last, schedule your appointments at the waning Moon; your hair will grow back more slowly. Trim trees and bushes too. Because their sap is low, plants lose less energy. Surgeries can be less traumatic. There’s less blood loss; healing will accelerate once the New Moon arrives.
We might say that all these activities are a way of taking care of life by letting some of it go. Recently I took a train trip along the Pacific coast. I was struck by the vivid difference in homes along the tracks. Many were neat, freshly painted, with lush gardens in full bloom. Many had yards full of junk, broken window screens; others were abandoned altogether.
Looking out my sleeper car window, there was the waning Moon, a luminescent pearl in the morning sky. Maybe it was her influence that led to my next thought: what made the abundant homes so lush was not their caretakers’ relentless drive towards growth. Rather it was a more rounded wisdom, which included knowing when to slow down and throw away, when to cease acquiring and nourish what was there.
Without this knowledge, life exhausts itself and can’t go on. Leading to things abandoned, overgrown, tired and falling apart. Far from lacking ambition, I supposed the owners of the wrecked and deserted homes had had too much. They tired themselves out. They didn’t know, as the Earth does, the secret of the waning Moon.
I think the waning Moon chose the morning sky for good reason. From there she can watch over how we start our day—when we most need the encouragement to mind what’s going on. Chop wood, she says, carry water. Clean out a junk drawer, a corner of your garage. Find yourself in the quiet details. Go inward. And take care.
© 2000 Dana Gerhardt
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