The man stood, not moving, for a long moment. He was overcome with the beauty of the scenery – the valley above which he had decided to perform his Zen task. If anyone had asked him six months ago if he would be out in the middle of nowhere, off the side of a deserted road, performing a Zen task, he would have said they were crazy. But things change, and he was glad about it.
The task was to dig a hole and fill it up. Dig a hole and fill it up. When he had heard that Zen teaches to do such a thing to focus the mind and rejuvenate the spirit, he figured it was some kind of elaborate joke. But as soon as he put the shovel in the dirt, he realized it was true.
Dig. Throw the dirt to the side. Dig. Throw the dirt to the side. Dig.
He became instantly sweaty and hot in the midday summer sun, but there was something refreshing and invigorating about this task – something that helped him understand why it was “Zen”. He was able to put more and more energy into the work, until the hole was nearly as deep as he was tall.
Now he needed to fill it in.
Shovel into the pile of dirt. Toss the dirt into the hole. Shovel. Toss. Shovel. Toss.
His arms ached, his back hurt. He was getting a sunburn, he thought. He was thirsty, exhausted. But he wanted to finish. Strangely enough, he felt incredible. He felt strong and peaceful and free.
Most especially he felt free.
He felt so good, in fact, that he regretted not having committed wholly to the task. The point of digging the hole was not to have any particular purpose for doing so. Oh, well. He had gotten so much out of it that he looked forward to doing it again, and when he did, he would just dig the hole – for no purpose at all – and just fill it up. He shook his head in wonder. Who would have thought that such a thankless activity would be … well … Zen? He grinned, wiping dirt and sweat from his face as he looked at his handiwork. The hole was all filled in, and one last time he tamped down the mound with the back of the shovel. He looked out over the valley; it was so beautiful. Even more beautiful now than when he had first seen it and admired it.
He shouldered the shovel and turned back to the road, to his truck parked just at the edge of it. As he stepped away from the mound, he looked down and saw the red high-heeled shoe. Crap, he thought, bending down and picking it up. Well, he was too tired to dig the hole back up today. He’d just have to put it in the next hole.
He’d have to wait for the next next time to dig a hole with no purpose.
Oh, well, he thought. It’s an amazing experience anyway. He was so glad he had done it. So glad.
He climbed into the truck and tossed the shoe under the seat. Looking back once more at his Zen mound, he smiled again, and drove away up the deserted road, back toward town.