While everyone is wishing their co-workers, friends and family a fantastic new year full of creativity, self-improvement, and relationship-hacking bravado, I would settle for an ordinary new year.
Wishing others an entire year of monumental experiences or events, is curious to me. I am not sure I can handle anything too out of the ordinary.
In fact, I am quite happy with ordinary.
what’s so special about being special?
I’ve been around the “special” block quite a few times, enough to question the entire project of assessing and attributing special-ness stature to things which – on deep analysis – are quite ordinary.
I mean, what makes certain pizza toppings more special than others?
The special-ness project can have a field day with our meditation practice. In the original teachings, the Buddha tried to encourage folks with rather extra-ordinary narratives; to raise their hopes of what is possible in a single lifetime.
But in our ridiculously competitive culture the original teachings, which were intended to motivate ordinary folks back in the sixth century BC, often back-fire in our present day—reinforcing patterns of ego-identification and inflation the original teachings are meant to take apart.
our meditation practice is nothing special
As the Buddhist meditation teacher Ken McLeod recently wrote on his blog:
“When we practice, we think we are doing something special, that we are making something happen. While I fell into this way of thinking myself, I eventually came to understand that it is a completely wrong-headed. Any idea that you are special in some way is an indication of delusion. These are all stories we tell ourselves to explain what is through and through, a mystery.”
The special-ness project secretly encourages us to achieve some feeling or some imagined mental state in our meditation practice. This goal we half-consciously buy into may lead you to judge yourself as failing or succeeding, reinforcing what classical Buddhism calls “grasping and aversion.”
The result? Often a scattered and anxious mind.
then one day …
… with time and patience, you discover an open awareness which is inherently free, peaceful and joyous. And which was not achieved by any effort as it has always been here.
Hiding in the ordinariness of your life.
Ajahn Sumedho, the 84-year-old American-born Buddhist monk, in his clear-eyed book Now is the Knowing, writes:
We tend to overlook the ordinary. We are usually only aware of our breath when it’s abnormal, like if we have asthma. We don’t try to make the breath long or short, or control it in any way, but to simply stay with the normal inhalation and exhalation. We do not even need to be particularly intelligent — all we have to do is to be content with, and aware of, one inhalation and exhalation. Wisdom can arise from observing the ordinary.
Wash your bowls
There is old Zen story that I like very much. A monk comes to the monastery of the master Zhao Zhou and asks for teaching.
The master asks him, “Have you had your breakfast?” The monk says that he has. “Then wash your bowls,” is the teacher’s reply, and the only instruction he offers.
just this moment …
Zhao Zhou wants to bring the monk down to the immediate present moment, as if saying “Don’t look for some profound metaphysical or yogic instructions here. Be present to this moment.”
But we seem to be looking for something other than what’s right here in this moment.
… is the only moment there is
This moment is often seen as a barrier to overcome so that we can at some later moment get whatever it is we thought we were looking for when we got into this meditation stuff.
But at some point it begins to dawn on us that there is no other moment.
Then everything becomes very simple.
We sit with awareness of the body, or the breath. We let thought and feeling come up but we don’t make a big deal out of anything.
We let whatever comes up to come up naturally, without resistance. We appreciate it, and we let it go. We don’t get tangled up in a web of complication.
profound ordinary happiness
As we sit this way, judgments begin to fall away. We allow ourselves to fully be who we are. And we realize we are profoundly happy yet in a most ordinary way.
Wishing you a very ordinary new year!