Enlightenment. What does it mean and how do we get there? And if we find it, what happens next?
If we attain that which we desire, it will do us no good to sit back on our laurels and retire from the world. Enlightenment, like any other quest, should go beyond ourselves. If it does not help others, what is the purpose?
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.Zen Kōan (A Zen Story)
Chop wood and carry water. The only difficulty is in the labor. But as time passes and the labor is performed, the body and mind adapt. The process develops muscular endurance and strength. Muscle memory recognizes the actions needed and the nervous system improves. The body becomes efficient in the task. Reaching enlightenment does not change the scope of the work. The wood still needs to be chopped. The water must be carried.
The metal is heated to the highest temperature required for it to become malleable. If it is cooled, then the metal cannot be shaped. The solution is to keep the metal hot.
When one is heated to the highest degree, one must have continued heat to maintain the highest temperature.-Seneca, Letter #109: On the Fellowship of Wise Men
The ideal scenario is that we came out of the previous year better than we started it. We developed habits (think of muscle memory) that served us. We adapted and adjusted to the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that our external environment threw at us. Ideally, we are in prime form. Maybe, we have even found enlightenment along the way.
What do we do now?
We maintain the heat. It is our only choice. If we become comfortable and remove the heat, then we will become stiff and not be able to mold into our true shapes. Therefore, we must continue the work. We must perform the labor no matter how far we think we have come. Chop wood, carry water. Just like we did in previous days, so must we continue to do so today and into the future.