Five ways to live an amazingly ordinary life
He was already rich in his late thirties.
His thriving construction company paid for his expansive ranch, upscale town house, elegant sailboat, sleek BMW, and all the toys and experiences he could dream of.
Until one day, while driving, he blacked out.
Tests revealed a fast-growing cancerous brain tumor.
The doctor told him they had to operate immediately, and he had an agonizing choice to make: Since the tumor was in his brain’s speech and comprehension center, if they were to operate, there was a chance he would lose his ability to read, write, speak, or understand any language. But if they didn’t operate, he would have only six weeks to live.
He had twenty-four hours to make the decision.
His sister called a spiritual advisor to visit with him. They sat and had a heartfelt conversation. Then he became silent.
After a while of reflection, he turned to the spiritual advisor and said, “I’ve had enough of talking. Maybe I’ve said too many words. This evening it seems so precious just to have a drink of tap water or to watch the pigeons on the windowsill fly off in the air. They seem so beautiful to me. It’s magic to see a bird go through the air. I’m not finished with this life. Maybe I’ll just live it more silently.”
The allure of being rich and famous is something that tugs at all of us. Our deepest longing is to be someone — someone who really matters, someone who accomplishes great things and is remembered after we are gone.
The unfortunate side effect of this perspective — which I know all too well — is that it easily misses the mark.
In striving for greatness, hustling to live an extraordinary life, we often miss the beauty and joy of ordinary living. In our zeal to grasp the big things, we miss the little things that matter most.
To avoid this and connect with the unspeakable miracle of ordinary life, here are five key attributes to cultivate:
There’s nothing “out there” — no opulent mansion, no fancy car, no luxury yacht — that can even come close to comparing to the awe-inspiring beauty and mystery of the present moment.
There’s no goal you can accomplish, no great task you can achieve in the future that can ever give you more joy than what’s in front of you right now.
Take a deep breath. Just breathe for a moment. Focus on your breath. Be here, now. Now look around you. What do you see?
Now sustain that presence over long periods and watch how your perspective completely transforms.
Conscious gratitude is the most magical thing in the world.
It reveals the ordinary miracles that surround us every mundane moment of every day. It keeps us humble. It can instantly transform all excruciating trials into profound gifts. It opens our hearts to truly seeing others in their struggles and to serving unhesitatingly.
Taking time each day to count our blessings and bask in gratitude is the best way to reconnect with God, put our challenges into perspective, and re-center and re-ground ourselves.
I refer to this quote from William Martin’s fantastic book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching, over and over:
“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.”
The ordinary comes alive through curiosity and wonder. As we live in a state of constant wonder, we realize that extraordinary was never anything to achieve, but rather something to simply see.
As he was dying, someone asked Aldous Huxley if he could say what he had learned in all his work with many spiritual teachers and gurus on his spiritual journey. Huxley’s answer was,
“It is embarrassing to tell you this, but it seems to come down mostly to just learning to be kind.”
What matters isn’t our spiritual beliefs, but rather our sincere actions. Simple, heartfelt kindness is the pinnacle of true spirituality, the hallmark of a life well lived.
Compassion is the art of truly seeing others, feeling their pain, being with them as a support, deeply caring for them.
There’s nothing we all ache for more than genuine compassion. Yet strangely, in our busyness and ambition, it’s what we all offer to each other the least.
Compassion pulls us out of busy mode, where we frantically rush around doing everything except the most important thing: to deeply connect with others. It gets us out of our head mode of trying to fix things for people and into our heart mode of simply being with them. All cold judgment dissolves in the warmth of heart-to-heart compassion.
Compassion is among the rarest of attributes, and it is unbelievably precious.
Make Every Day Your Last
That man with a brain tumor? He opted for the surgery.
After fourteen hours of surgery he awoke to see his sister standing there and said, “Good morning.” They were able to remove the tumor without losing his speech.
He recovered from his cancer and changed his entire life. He stopped being a workaholic and spent more time with his family. He became a counselor for others diagnosed with cancer and other terminal illnesses. He spent much of his time in nature and touching the lives of others.
His life gives us perspective on this reflection from Christopher Titmuss in his book, Light on Enlightenment:
- Imagine it is your last day on earth. You have no tomorrow, no future. You can’t do anything wild or insensitive.
- How would you spend your last day?
- What would you give attention to?
- What would you take time to observe?
- What would you appreciate or reflect upon?
- Now go ahead and do it before it is your last day!
*The true story of the man with cancer is told by Jack Kornfield in his book A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life.