On Saturday 20th January after my own show, The Art of Living, I went to see Damian Browne speak in Belfast with some friends. Damian is an intriguing man and someone whose journey I have followed in recent years with great admiration. Aside from being a professional rugby player, A Tedx Speaker and having summited some of the world’s highest peaks, in 2022, Damian completed a solo row from New York to Galway spending 112 nights at sea in treacherous weather. His talk regaled the ups and downs of such a feat and drove home what a human body is capable of with the right mindset. Damian recounted how during particular bad weather he rowed for 18 hours per day, for four days and covered zero distance due to strong winds and currents. He was comforted by a mantra that he spoke to himself throughout the day, “Chop wood, carry water”

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to have a pint of Guinness in Lavery’s Bar, Belfast after his talk where Damian recounted how that message of “chop wood, carry water” allowed him to focus on controlling the controllables. Irregardless of the weather he was able to control his attitude of mind and go to work rowing. Chop wood, carry water.

The expression comes from a Zen proverb which states, “Before enlightenment; chop wood carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood carry water” and was famously quoted in the Van Morrison hit Enlightenment. Listen here

On Friday I was invited to a dinner with some incredible people. One of which was Dr Steve Dansiger, who truly is an incredible human being who has such a positive impact on the world with his ground breaking work in the fields of trauma and addiction. As well as Steve’s selfless work all over the world he has been practising Zen Buddhism for over 30 years so of course I brought up the zen proverb of choping wood and carrying water.

The response I got was truly heartwarming, “If before enlightenment we are chopping wood and carrying water, and after enlightenment, we are still chopping wood and carrying water, then guess what, there is no enlightenment. Everyone is enlightened, this is it. Right here, right now in the present moment, we are all experiencing the enlightenment we have been seeking”

I smiled at the thought. Then laughed at how I had previously and perhaps frantically searched through such unorthodox means such as spiritual retreats, hallucinogenic toads and even psychedelic cacti and maybe everything I was looking for was already within me.

As I went home that evening I journaled, “If this is it, then maybe it’s not about finding our purpose but doing that which is purposeful”

In my online group, The Knowing Doing Gap, our theme for the month of February is finding your purpose. It can be a daunting topic for some but I have since asked them to consider simply asking themselves the question, is what I am doing purposeful?

In my journal, I recalled how in 2020 I spent two days on The Sperrin Mountains with former Czechoslovakian special forces operator, Martin Stroganoff. Martin was putting me through my paces as part of a survival course. For a full day we quite literally chopped wood and carried water to build camp, complete with an underground oven. I remember how towards the end of the day with our work nearly done and food nearly ready, Martin asked me, “Ciaran, what have you been thinking about today?” I couldn’t answer him, I had been so engrossed in my actions that day of chopping wood and carrying water that my mind hadn’t wandered. I had a purpose that day, as demanding and tough as it was, I needed to chop that wood to make my shelter and cook my food and carry water to drink and wash. I had no distractions and although physically demanding it was exceptionally peaceful, almost meditative.

Whether we care to admit it or not, our days are filled with “doing things” of chopping wood and carrying water, my question to you is this? Are your daily actions purposeful?

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If you would like to delve deeper into the subject we are joined in the Knowing Doing Gap this month by Deepak Chopra certified Meditation Teacher, Helen Clark who will be guided us inwards during her online class on 1st February before our in person networking evening on 27th February. Join a community of 100 local business owners to help you Connect, Collaborate and Grow.

Wishing you a purposeful week,


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