Thursday, July 15, 2010

A life less ordinary

"We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful. If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path. But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our 'self-improvement'."--Chogyam Trungpa, from Ocean of Dharma: 365 Teachings on Living Life with Courage and Compassion

I was in a marketing meeting this morning and the editors were discussing their Summer 2011 titles (yes, 2011. Publishing, like the fashion industry, dwells in the future. But what I hate about fashion is that they start selling fall clothes in August, so when you're looking for, say, a pair of shorts during a heat wave, all they have is wool pants, as if to say, duh--why didn't you shop for shorts in March?)

One of the Summer 2011 titles is by Jan Chozen Bays, the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. That book was well-received, and Jan has many followers who think she is the bee's knees when it comes to mindfulness meditation.

The new book, Adventures in Mindfulness, was described as "a guided program for bringing mindfulness and meditation into ordinary daily activities to reduce stress and enhance well-being." There will be an exercise a week for a year; one example: notice in your speech how many times you say "um, ah, like" etc. Then instead of using those words, try taking a few deep breaths, then resume what you were going to say. This would be a hard exercise for almost anyone, but especially for us girls from New Jersey who use the word "like" as a preposition.

But I've observed President Obama when he's giving a speech and how he pauses in between thoughts instead of "ahh-ing" or "umm-ing." Yes, every Toastmasters member knows this trick, but you don't have to be a great orator or the President to pay attention to your speech. Look how calm and collected Obama looks, even when he has something difficult to say (which is all the time.)

Another exercise is keeping a gratitude journal. I have one that's published by Chronicle Books. It's got quotes and ideas in it to inspire you. The problem is I feel like I write the same thing over and over because my life is pretty staid.
  1. I'm grateful for my parents being alive and healthy.
  2. I'm grateful for my husband who loves me even when I'm sick or tired or bratty.
  3. I'm grateful for my job which I enjoy.
  4. I'm grateful that I HAVE a job (not a given these days.)
  5. I'm grateful I don't live in a war-torn country where "happiness" is defined as "not getting blown up or kidnapped or forcibly silenced."

These are all good things for me to remember when I'm feeling low, but I don't want to write the same thing every time. So I've branched out.
  1. I'm grateful for my ten purple-painted toes. All functioning.
  2. I'm grateful for my air conditioner (if you live anywhere in the Northeast right now, you know what I'm talking about.)
  3. I'm grateful for books. And eyes that can see because I'm not crazy about audiobooks.
  4. I'm grateful for my good taste. Yes, I can say that and not be snobby. Maybe.
  5. I'm grateful for black olives.

My mother is a big believer in finding happiness in small moments. I have to practice being mindful so I can do that.

But I don't like being ordinary, listing ordinary gratitudes. When you're young you feel like so much is possible. Living in New York City I experienced that feeling several times a week just being there, dwarfed by the skyscrapers and constantly stimulated with novelty. Now I feel like life is stalled. The possibilities look less abundant now, and I'm supposed to be happy about that? Is being mindful and accepting yourself as you are just an admission of your mediocrity? Is celebrating the small stuff just another way of giving up your big dreams?

Here's what Thoreau says: If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours ... In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.

Can we do both? Dream big and succeed, and have a simple life?

I'm thinking that when I can get a hold of Jan Chozen Bay's mindfulness manuscript, I'll try doing the exercise-a-week and writing about my experiences on here.

Maybe by then I'll have come closer to understanding my favorite Emily Dickinson poem:

I'm 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 frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

1 comment:

Peter said...

What a wonderful post! It occurred to me too late to ask you if you minded me passing it around.