BEFORE English, chop wood, carry water, AFTER English, chop wood, carry water


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Before English, chop wood, carry water, after English, chop wood, carry water……..I can’t take credit for this phrase because it comes from an old Zen Buddhist proverb about enlightenment. The real quote says, Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water….. What the proverb is trying to say according to Patrick Allen is

‘Many of us get caught up in the end results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. But the truth is that getting to where you want to go or being successful doesn’t mean that the work that lead you there goes away. Achieving your version of “enlightenment” is not an endpoint in and of itself. You’ll need to do the same things after in order to keep moving forward…. If you can’t take on the simple tasks as best as you can, how could you conquer the big things?’

What I want to do here is to consider the communication and use of English in the same light and enlightenment. This is the goal of any person wanting to learn English, that their skills will be so deeply embodied into their psyche that it is part and parcel of their inner being. The key point is understanding that though you do have a goal of being fluent in English, there shouldn’t be an endpoint to this, that the work that lead you to get better at your English doesn’t go away.

To keep on ‘chopping wood and carrying water’ (which is a metaphor for everyday activities) means that whatever you did before doesn’t change after, that you will still need to continue your life to keep improving and growing in your new skills. Your previous activities do not disappear because you have learned English.

To go deeper on this, Patrick Allen goes on to state:

“When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock. Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it. When you are fully present, you may find that your labour is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.”

This is the same for any kind of learning. Bring all of yourself to the moment of learning and though you have many other tasks to complete in your daily life, with the help of this new learning the challenges and difficulties found with the previous actiivites will no longer be a hard.

It is definitely true that if we separate our language learning from our other actions in life, the challenges are more – if you are to be fluent in your English, you will need to be fluent in all your activities with it too. Language is not something for some moments and not for another, it walks hand in hand with you and can make your life easier if you understand the old Zen Buddhist proverb.

Just as there is a cyclical element to enlightenment, so too there is one to ongoing learning of language.

Make it something that you do on a daily basis without thinking about it.

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