Whenever I rinse off a knife or mixing spoon or clean vegetables in the kitchen, I collect the water in the plastic basin in the sink. When the basin gets full, I pour the water into a bucket that sooner or later I carry out to the garden. There I use it to water a tree, or pour it into a watering can with a shower spout to dampen the ground around young sprouts of vegetables or flowers. I use water collected in the shower in a similar way.

It might seem that this is a real chore, a sacrifice I make to conserve water in this time of extreme drought—and for a while I probably experienced it that way. Such practices are not anything new in my life; I’ve lived many years in the Southwest and am quite accustomed to saving water in these and other ways (don’t flush until necessary, take short showers, do only full loads of laundry and dishes, etc). It has become simply part of life.

As the drought in California deepens, however, I have found a new source of pleasure in carrying water out to the garden. I really enjoy watching the water pour from one container to another, and watching it sink into the soil. It has become something of a spiritual practice. I have begun to perceive water as a sacred substance as I collect it, carry it, and use it to nourish plants. It becomes alive for me, no longer taken for granted, or seen as a commodity—something I own to use casually and carelessly.

Perhaps this is a gift of the drought—to help us understand at a deep, visceral level, how utterly dependent we are on the basic gifts that support life: water, air, soil, sunshine. Perhaps we can begin to honor these gifts, using them with reverence, gratitude, and wisdom. We may begin to use only what we really need, motivated by the knowledge that we share these gifts with all living beings in the Earthly web of life. A well-known Zen teaching goes like this: “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” As we come to appreciate the deep roots of our interdependence with all life on this planet, we may find fulfillment in chopping wood and carrying water.