Several years ago I resolved to renounce hurrying for a year. It was immediately obvious that hurrying had less to do with how quickly or slowly I moved, and more to do with agitation and preoccupation with being somewhere I was not. The blessing of this renunciation was to be increasingly aware of the loveliness of the ordinary. The journey of going places became as important as the arrival; instead of waiting for something to begin or end I discovered a deepening appreciation of attending to what was right before me. So much that had escaped my attention came alive – the warmth of the sun on my face, the sounds of life, the touch of my feet on the ground. A new found joy in the simple and ordinary connections, events and people in my life deepened.
Our lives can be filled with countless lost moments. In the haste of our lives, juggling the demands of family, work, friends and the needs of our own body and mind, connection with the present is replaced by preoccupation with the future. Lost in thought and busyness our attention is prone to simply slide over the surface of life. It is all too easy to simply miss the countless lovely moments in our day that make our heart sing. The sound of a child’s laughter, the shape of a cloud, the coolness of a summers breeze, the wildflower growing in the crack of a sidewalk, the beat of our own heart – we live and breathe amidst the miracle of life. For it to touch our heart, we need to be present. The precious moments of calm and stillness our hearts long for, are born of our willingness to live the moment we are in.
Meditation practice shows the way to reclaim our capacity for profound, sensitive attentiveness and in turn to reclaim all the lost moments. Resting in an awakened heart we can deeply appreciate all that is joyful in our life, embrace that which is difficult and increasingly discover the loveliness of the ordinary.
In the moments and events of our life that are dramatic and intense we are likely to be immediately attentive. Excitement, pleasure, success, love and happiness are eagerly welcomed and are heroically pursued. Events that are painful, unpleasant, sorrowful are met with equally heroic efforts of avoidance and resistance. We may realize that it is only when all of our efforts of avoidance and distraction have been exhausted, that we are willing to reluctantly attend to the difficult, often with the agenda of fixing or getting rid of all that disturbs our heart.
Intensity awakens us, offering a sense of vitality and richness that can be felt to be lacking in life. Once sitting on a train beside a young man whose face and body were marked with multiple body piercings, I asked him if it wasn’t excruciating to have so much inflicted on his body. He answered, “It is deeply painful, but it makes me feel so alive.” We can be intensity addicts. Busyness can be exhausting but offers apparent meaning, direction and identity. A roller-coaster ride, an exhilarating meditation, the excitement of a new love, offer a longed-for wakefulness and sense of being fully alive. A broken heart, an illness, a grieving friend, an argument with a loved one, bring pain and sorrow, but are also events that capture and enliven our attention. Wisdom teaches us that the home of this precious sensitivity, awareness is not in the events of our lives, but in our own hearts.
There is so much in our life which is simply ordinary, neither exciting nor disturbing. Trees grow, birds fly, the sun shines, the rain falls. We go from morning to night, breathing, walking and moving through our day, meeting countless moments, people and events that we may barely notice. Within the ordinary, the tendency is to disconnect, at times feel these moments are undeserving of our attention. The ordinary is dismissed as boring, lacking in richness, intensity and completeness. Accustomed to externalizing happiness and vitality, in the midst of any moment that is simply ordinary, neither dramatic or intense we may begin to detect an inner unease or discontent.
The ordinary can seem to deprive us of purpose and consequently of identity. Non-doing appears at first deeply uncomfortable in its unfamiliarity, often becoming a springboard for the pursuit of some new, more exiting event or moment. In reality the ordinary moments in our life are doorways to a deeper wisdom, discovering the richness and vitality that live within our own hearts and a profound connection to life just as it is.
Awareness is designed to illuminate our life inwardly and outwardly. Awareness makes visible all that has lain in the shadows of our heart and life, shrouded in confusion, busyness or denial. The power of wise attention is to awaken the world. To understand anything deeply, we need to be connected with it – this is the birthplace of sensitivity, peace and compassion. Each of us is asked to explore what it means to be consciously engaged with our life and a participant in the awakening of our world.
The path of awareness invites us to deeply question the inclination to externalize both happiness and unhappiness and the belief that the wakefulness of our heart depends upon intensity. In the exploration of what it means to feel truly alive, connected and awake we begin to understand that a meditative life is an invitation to awaken our capacity to be delighted, to see beneath the surface of all things and rest in the richness of an enlivened heart. Our capacity to be delighted and touched by life, lives within our own heart. Honouring each moment unconditionally with our attention is to live in a sacred way, embracing the lovely, the difficult and the countless moments in our life which are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. In our capacity to be delighted we learn to discover the loveliness of the ordinary.
Awakening our capacity for sensitivity is to begin to appreciate the calm and ease of a heart that is not entranced by drama and intensity. No-one’s life is endlessly exciting or painful, filled with an uninterrupted succession of high and low experiences. No one has a mind that only ever enjoys lovely, uplifting thoughts or a body that is continuously bursting with health and vitality. None of us has a meditation practice that is continually exciting and rapturous… Our days have countless ordinary moments – sitting on the bus, shopping, preparing a meal, answering the telephone and walking from one place to another as we attend to all the ordinary tasks of our life… We move through a world meeting countless ordinary events, meeting numerous people who may barely touch our heart. These moments are not less worthy simply because they are lacking in intensity or drama. Learning to embrace the ordinary with a wholehearted sensitivity and attention, our world is illuminated and awakened. We learn what it means to listen more deeply, see more fully and sense an awakened heart that sees the special in the ordinary and the ordinary in the special.
Learning to attend wholeheartedly to the ordinary, we begin to discover a heart that can rest in non doing and deep receptivity. Stepping out of addiction to intensity, we find within all the ordinary moments of our life, a chance to pause, to breathe and sense glimmers of a profound calmness. The many sights, sounds, tastes and people we have overlooked because of their ordinariness are seen in a new way. We begin to be curious about all the ordinary encounters and activities we have ignored or neglected and discover their uniqueness and depth. Reclaiming the lost moments in our days we are reclaiming our lives and our capacity to celebrate the loveliness of the ordinary, it is a place of deep ease and calm. The miracle of being alive is celebrated through the sensitivity and connectedness we cultivate.
Guided Meditation – Touching the Ordinary
Settle into a meditative posture that is relaxed and as ease filled as possible. Close your eyes and for a few moments rest your attention within your breathing, allowing yourself to calm and find your seat in this moment. Scan your attention through your whole body, sensing the spectrum of sensations and feelings that are present in this moment. Notice how your attention is drawn towards the sensations that are either pleasant or unpleasant. Be as aware as you can of how you respond to these sensations – the way in which you delight in the pleasant and how you might tighten around or resist the unpleasant. Moving your attention through your body sense the places where no sensation appears – areas you might describe as neutral – the touch of your lips together, the palms of your hands, your ears. Bring your attention to explore these areas and sense how the interest, sensitivity and calmness brings them to life, how they are seen in a new way. Sense what it means to rest within the ordinary, exploring the ease and peace to be found.
Expanding your attention to sense the range of sounds presenting themselves – notice the sounds that are pleasant and those that grate upon you. Sense the way you may be attracted to those you enjoy and resist those that are unpleasant. Notice the sounds of the ordinary – the hum of your refrigerator, the wind outside your window, the car passing on the street. Explore what it means to listen deeply to those sounds and to rest just in pure listening.
Bring your attention to notice the range of thoughts passing through your mind – planning, remembering, worrying – attend to them all equally with a calm, unbiased attentiveness that sees their arising and their passing. Sense what it might be to rest in the seeing, allowing the mind to do what a mind does, without taking hold of any of the thoughts that appear. Expand your awareness to receive everything that is present in this moment – your body, feelings, thoughts, sounds. Explore what it is to receive the moment, to rest in awareness. Sense the loveliness born of interest, connection and ease and the way that your world is awakened by the attention you bring. What would it mean to bring these qualities into our life; to attend wholeheartedly to all that we neglect or dismiss?