The first time I put my future step daughter, Reade, to bed she was seven years old and passionate about search and find books. We sat close on the bed looking at two-page spread close-up photographs of a table covered with toys or a patch of grass packed with flowers or a beach piled with a thousand shells. We took turns challenging each other to find the red toy soldier with the blue hat, the five flowers with orange petals, the purple scallop shell with a broken edge. She found things faster than I did every time. To this day, seventeen years later, she is still one of the most observant people I know.
What we mistake for an ordinary day, is actually us paying ordinary attention to an extraordinary day.
My life is busy and full and everything feels fast. How many days do I spend glossing over, skimming through, skipping past the details so I can get everything done? Time feels like it’s going faster but maybe it just because I’m glossing, skimming and skipping past the days.
And then there’s the repetition of adult life. As kids, the world is amazing and a new teacher every year and wow, look at that bug! As adults, our lives can fall into a metronome of speed and intensity. The trance of modern life can feel paradoxically boring and stressful, dull and chaotic, purposeless and urgent. For me, especially in mid-March, everything can feel perfectly beige and ordinary.
To create an extraordinary life, pay extraordinary attention to ordinary things.
Oh sure, I can fill out my bracket and watch young athletes in bright uniforms play artificially amped-up games. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the Madness. Go Hoos! Go ACC!) I might occasionally travel to exotic (or at least new) landscapes. I can break up the simultaneous feeling of both rushed and “same shit, different day” with a party or dinner and a movie.
But what if I don’t have to add onto my life to restore its vibrant energy? What if I’m already in the midst of everything I need to wake up my natural sense of wonder, joy and awe? Marcel Proust said that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
One of the reasons I move mindfully on the dance floor and on my mat, sit in meditation, and write, is that each of these practices helps me pay extraordinary attention to ordinary things. There is no such thing as an ordinary thing, an ordinary person, an ordinary day, an ordinary life; only ordinary attention paid to extraordinary things.
Pay extraordinary attention to ordinary things.
Postscript: In the day since writing the first draft of this post:
– The rich fragrance of roasting asparagus
– The hands of the man at Southern States cash register: carefully clipped nails and smooth skin on fingers that slowly pecked out the charge for my chicken feed
– The satisfying crunch of a roasted almond
– A man in dirty jeans and a found sweatshirt planting seeds in black soil
– The cat’s black fur in the sunshine looks black and brown and silver
– The way the robin ducks his head when it runs across the grass then lifts it again to, what?, look for worms?
– The cool, smoothness of clean sheets