This morning I found myself wondering what the day would bring as I walked up our long driveway to get the newspapers. I had a feeling, hopefully there will be more...
What came after the ellipsis was left unsaid in my mind. I wasn't sure what more I wanted, just that whatever it was, it should be more than what I was doing at the moment: walking up our long driveway to get the newspapers.
I've been doing this sort of thing for most of my sixty-two years. Looking for something extra, the frosting on life's bare cake, the final meaning that will make my existence super-meaningful.
Religion, spirituality, mysticism, philosophy, science, music, art, business, politics, environmentalism. It's difficult to think of any sphere in life that isn't founded on a presumption of more.
That more could be less, of course.
Making more progress for an environmentalist could mean using less energy and consuming less of the world's resources, just as another person could consider that being less egotistical and self-centered is a way to be more spiritual.
Regardless, most of the time we humans seem to be focused on the unordinary. We tend to look past what is right in front of us, seeking a special experience.
Today I was reading Phillip Shepherd's "New Self, New World" before I meditated. A section on The Wonder of the Ordinary struck me as containing a lot of wisdom.
We take transcendence as our polestar and are guided by the urge towards it in everything we do... Our tyranny over every facet of the natural world is relentless, and everywhere that tyranny exerts itself, it reinforces our culture's fantasy of what it is to be human: to rise above the mundane -- literally, "what is of the earth."
And so we transcend earth and meadow with the help of concrete and asphalt and homogenized lawns; we transcend time with facelifts and jet travel and instant meals; we transcend ordinary death by buying our meat prepackaged at the grocery store, and making up our corpses to look like they are sleeping, and watching death every day on the news as if it belonged to another, somehow smaller and more remote reality. We transcend everyday weather with air conditioners and heated cars, and with malls and underground concourses where you can buy anything and never see the light of day.
...People tend to turn their backs on the ordinary in order to seek an experience of the extraordinary; but in fact it is through our connection with the ordinary that the truly extraordinary unfolds before us: the ordinary, resplendent with the weave of the world, awakens us to it.
The word extraordinary literally means "outside of the ordinary" -- and what lies outside of any ordinary event is the extraordinary web of time and process that births that event from the universe.
During a Tai Chi class this week, my instructor said, "I had a big insight recently: nothing matters." He didn't elaborate much on what he meant. But his words stuck in my mind.
A few minutes later, as we were playing (in Tai Chi parlance) a form, I had my own big insight after watching myself perform a move that I'd done thousands of times before: everything matters.
Which is the same as saying, nothing matters, because if everything matters, then nothing matters more than anything else. Drinking a cup of tea is as matter'ful as finding a cure for cancer.
That may sound ridiculous. But it makes a lot of sense to me.
Once we draw a firm line between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between meaningless and meaningful activities, we use abstractions to divide the vibrant lived reality of life -- the root of which is, and likely always will be, a mystery.
Here's a poem by Alden Nowlan that was quoted in "New Self, New World." I liked Great Things Have Happened a lot. Enjoy.
Poem: "Great Things Have Happened," by Alden Nowlan from What Happened When He Went to the Store for Bread (Nineties Press).
Great Things Have Happened
We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, "Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time." But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn't mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.
"Is that all?" I hear somebody ask.
Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.