I have known dozens upon dozens of people who despise their ordinary existence and think that their life does not have much significance.
There is a revolution I am interested in that revolts against cultural, national, political and religious forces that have built into our identities a plan for how we need to live and have our being in order to be significant. I fight against that everyday. I find myself on a road to living a storied life that those institutional forces would interpret as mediocre. Not me ... I call it the Everyday Ordinary of Being True.
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
― William Martin, The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
Ordinary living (at least in Western nations such as the United States) is often interpreted as settling for less as if we ordinary women and men were living lives of quiet desperation in having failed to reach our true potential. Purpose and callingbecome suffocated in the mundane and routine. This is where the vendors of hope findtheir money spot: selling secrets in how to live our best lives, fear mongering that somehow we each are in mortal danger of FAILING AT BEING HUMAN.
How is it that we have come to judge our ordinary lives as being insignificant? When we admire nature do we look and say, "Oh that hummingbird is just a bird that flits about doing nothing in particular. When it dies, no one will notice. Such an ordinary, boring bird."
Of course not. We value and enjoy the lovely hummingbird for it simply being an ordinary hummingbird. It does not need to perform to prove it's worth, nor strive to earn adulation. The hummingbird does not lose sleep fretting over purpose and the meaning of life. The hummingbird Just Is.
There is an unseen realm of immeasurable significance that belongs to the Everyday Woman and the Everyday Man. In this realm, being ordinary is to be like a hummingbird. Just Being True to Who We Are is the epitome of purposeful life.
In Leo Tolstoy's gorgeous spiritual biography, A Confession and Other Religious Writings, he writes with vulnerability of how at the apex of success in his life he wrestled with despair over the meaning of it all. "What will become of my entire life?" he lamented. Mind you, he was wealthy, well known and dined with the aristocracy of the Russia of his time. He had become a cultural figure and was sought out by the rich and powerful. Despite his influence and prestige, he suffered debilitating depression rooted in despair that all of life is meaningless.
But his story does not end there.
Tolstoy describes how he began to gaze upon ordinary peasants reflecting on their simple yet content living. He wondered at their peaceful acceptance of daily life and certainty of death. On the brink of killing himself, he had an awakening. The great and mighty Tolstoy discovered faith from observing the humble path of the common Everyday Russian. In time, Tolstoy would renounce his aristocratic life and embrace the simplicity of peasant living. He found meaning and salvation at the abyss of the mediocre masses living uninteresting lives.
The Everyday Ordinary of Being True was buried under the rubble of accolades and applause. Tolstoy was freed when he shed extraordinary living for ordinary being.
Being true to who we are might not mean excommunicating ourselves from our lifestyle, but for me it does mean exiling myself from the success-driven messaging from culture and my former tribe of faith. Oh the woes of American Christianity where power and popularity have become trademarks of our prophets rather than commonness.
A popular blogger once emailed me warning me about writing on accepting our ordinary smallness. "You are in danger of giving people permission to settle for less rather than pursue the great plans that might be their calling. ."
I considered his admonition. Was he right? Was I giving people (and myself) a way of opting out of discovering the depth of our true greatness and purpose for living?
I decided..... Nope. I was not.
I wrote him back that he was in danger of contributing to the great shame and self-loathing that many people already struggle with in that we are not enough in who we are right where we are.
"We don't all get to be Oprah or Bono, " a wise sage friend once surmised.
Never did hear back from that blogger.
Living without a grand purpose or mission to fulfill is Ok. Some will find a calling. Many will not. I don't think I ever really have. I'm at peace, for at the end of it all, for I have learned to embrace my mediocrity. I think, really and truly, that my averageness is a gift in disguise. And for those blessed women and men who follow their trueness into accomplishment and discoveries, I am ever so grateful for their greatness. Greatness comes in all shapes and sizes yet I think it is most often cloaked in the routine of everyday existence.