By Nandini Murali November 2009 The spiritual path can be described as the journey from being nobody to becoming somebody and finally to being nobody again. Here, we look at the processes that govern this movement. And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find fulfillment in being ordinary.-Marilyn Thomsen ThomsenThe greatest truths are simplest. Profound insights lurk in everyday occurrences. To discover them we need not trek to mountaintops or explore caves, but just open our ways of seeing by being aware that in the ordinary lies the extraordinary. Like nectar in a flower or oil in the infinitesimal mustard.The uncarved stone syndromeI recently came across a simple stone bench in a manicured garden. It rested on bricks that functioned as its support. Its naturalness fascinated me, a stark contrast to the contrived perfection around it. Its utter simplicity and un-self-consciousness seemed intrinsic. Its essence permeated its entire being and the stone seemed aware and alive to the presence within it. The stone celebrated its ordinariness. Something stirred within me. In contrast, unlike the stone I camouflage myself through wearing myriad masks that distance me from my Essence and thereby from others too. Paradoxically, as we move into a state of awareness and begin to peel away our lifetimes of masking, life becomes simpler and joyful. Benjamin Hoff in The Tao of Pooh writes about the wisdom of learning from ordinary everyday events and occurrences that have hidden messages for our souls – the P’u or the Principle of the Uncarved Block.“The essence of the Principle of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoilt or lost when that simplicity is changed… From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as it may appear to others at times,” writes Hoff.It is hardly surprising that among the characters in this delightful Taoist fable, it is the bear Pooh with his simplicity and harmonious way of living who epitomises the Taoist ideal of “going with the flow” in contrast to the intellectual Rabbit, Owl, or Eyeore (the donkey). Things in their original simplicitycontain their own natural power. Seeking the extraordinary Ordinary. The word stems from the Latin ordinarius that means regular, normal, customary, boring or commonplace. We humans have a natural affinity to latch on to literal meanings of words. Like we have done with ordinary. If you ask any person to respond to the word ordinary, chances are that most often, they will react negatively to the O word. Few words have been as stigmatised and thereby the target of our discriminatory attitudes and prejudices as ordinary.Most of us seek the extraordinary – in either or both the material and spiritual paths. Indeed the mantra of modern living is to seek the extraordinary. As seekers on the spiritual path, a spiritual trap that we need to be aware of is this elusive yearning for that magical moment of transcendence; the acme of sublimity. Alas, that might never be! Yet we do so because “we run our story of differentiation – of dividing the world into the mundane and the spiritual – we put our lives on hold. We are in wait and in lust for some future extraordinary event, hoping it will overtake the ordinariness of everyday living.” (http://www.sentient.org). I often wonder why advertisements use celebrities with their halo of “extraordinariness” to peddle “ordinary” products used by “ordinary” consumers! Why not “ordinary” people instead who would be more credible? Or ads that use the morphed version of the crown of Albert Einstein over a young child’s “ordinary” body to suggest an extraordinary strife towards excellence!Certainly ordinary is the warp and weft that weaves together the fabric of what it means to be human. GK Chesterton spoke about the “ecstasy of being ordinary”. Chesterton derived an immense satisfaction at being able to connect with the essential nature of things. He delighted in the “sudden yellowness of dandelion”, the “wetness of water”, the “fierceness of fire”, or the “steeliness of steel”. According to theologian David Fagerberg, for Chesterton, “on every encounter, at every turn, with every person, there is cause for happiness…We have been given a world filled with a million means to beatitude.” In other words, our ordinariness is the kernel that holds the promise of fulfilment and contentment. Yet, disconnected as we are from our intrinsic nature of being “perfect, whole, and complete,” we seek to fill our emptiness from the outside. For most of us, this quest to fill our emptiness comes from the striving to be somebody. Fear of being ordinaryAll our lives we fear being ordinary. The ordinary frightens us. Relying as we do on an identity based on external labels and achievements, we strive to stand out from others. Alas, trying to fulfil our need for being special through external means is like filling a bottomless pit. No matter how successful we may be in our professions or how much fame and glory we may attain, our sense of self will be shaky. After all, there is always someone who has achieved more than we have, and even fame and glory fade. In the meanwhile in our struggle to be better than the other, we alienate them, for there is nothing that rents the fabric of our interconnectedness and interdependence as feeling superior to others.The pitfall of personality projectionThe struggle to be special is an inner Kurukshetra. We see this struggle being played out in many spheres of our lives. As a meditator, I recall how the occasional mystical experience would often create in me a hankering to consciously try hard to replicate such visions in almost every meditation. Of course, the harder I tried, the more elusive these spontaneous moments of sublimity became. It took me several years to even glean that spirituality is not about transcendence but about living – in the here and now. Most of us are conscious of our image. We consciously project a certain image with branding skills and professionalism that make top management school graduates look like amateurs! Ironically some of us may not be aware that we are doing so! It seems so much less painful to sail through life clouded by ignorance or avidya.GL Sampoorna, psychologist and healer, talks about her tortuous journey from projecting a certain kind of personality to her current complete acceptance of being “myself”. According to her, as a young adult, she was obsessively self-conscious. ‘Identification with the mind creates an opaquescreen of concepts, labels,words, judgmentsand definitions that block all true relationships. I was conscious of how smart I looked, how intelligent I sounded. I was conscious of what I read, the music I heard, the knowledge and information I had. In short, I was conscious of everything. I was who I was only to create a specific image in people’s minds. My focus was to be different. I rode on the pride of having an air of mystery and being unique. It validated my existence.” Ironically, Sampoorna in retrospect admits that this struggle was fraught with tension and in doing so she became a “stranger to myself” as the real she was submerged in an ocean of inauthenticity. “While practising the ‘different’ image that I wanted to project I stopped being myself. Maintaining this image constantly and consistently was a strain. I had to think, see and hear through the minds and senses of people I intended to impress; often people I didn’t even relate with. Maintaining this image constantly and consistently was a strain. Our thinking and emotions would clash and I would abandon myself. My own genuine feelings would be pushed down, while I imagined that I was feeling the emotions I was ‘supposed’ to feel. All very trying and tiring. A life of drama within drama,” admits Sampoorna. When I am just myself, simply me,completely ordinary and unassuming,I am seen as different. Being nobodyPoised as we are on the cusp of a new dawn of consciousness, it’s time we reinvented ordinariness and opened ourselves to the experience of being ordinary: a powerful means to reclaim and reconnect with our Original Nature. I recently gleaned a new perspective on Emily Dickinson’s immortal lines:I am nobody. Who are you?Are you nobody too?Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell! They’d banish us, you know!How dreary to be Somebody!How public like a frogTo tell one’s name to a livelong dayTo an admiring bog.Dickinson’s lines reveal her complete acceptance of her ordinariness and her disconnect from the mainstream strife to be somebody. Not surprisingly the spiritual quest is all about being comfortable with our ordinariness. On the face of it, it looks deceptively simple and perhaps even simplistic. What does being ordinary mean? To start with, ordinary is not to be equated with being mediocre. To do so would mean to fall into the trap of polarities, mutually exclusive opposites that only divide and fragment. This is the invisible trap of evaluating, judging, and labelling both ourselves and others: me v/s them mentality. The struggle then becomes one of the self v/s the other. In this case, however, we completely negate and destroy our authentic selves. The quest towards being ordinary is all about discovering the joy of being oneself. The charisma of being ordinar
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