Embracing “Ordinariness” as a Pathway to Real Contentment
What does the concept of ‘being ordinary’ bring up for you? It was only recently that I was asked to consider this. And, to be honest it’s been one of the most inner-revolution-inspiring ideas that I’ve connected with for quite some time. Actually it brought up a LOT of discomfort. As a member of western mainstream culture, I’ve been soaked in a set of values that places the individual on a pedestal and tells me to focus on things like reach for more!and fulfil your greatest potential! You know how it goes… get on that achievement treadmill – be better, smarter, and of course make sure that your children are brilliant and smart along with you!
And, there are many ways to climb on this treadmill, and they can all look quite different. One of the keys I have found useful in terms of exposing what my treadmill looks like lies in the degree to which I feel attached to an outcome or way of being. Where my fundamental OK-ness relies on me being or doing x, y or z. Also, when I can hear an inner critical voice pushing me on, or worse, shaming me. That’s when I really know I’m on it. It’s also there when I notice the voices of judgement inside me; whether this be directed at myself, my children, or anyone else not doing stuff in a certain way.
One thing I know: when I am on my treadmill, I sure don’t feel contented. And I’m pretty sure my kids don’t either.
I’ve been a mother for nearly 20 years – I have sons aged 19 & 10 and a daughter of almost 7. When I think of what I want for my kids, it’s pretty much the same things that I want for me.. I want to feel connected to myself. I want to feel contented. And I want my outputs into the world (the work that I do) to come from this place, and not from the one who’s puffing away on the treadmill.
I think that our deepest desires are often a lot more ordinary than we might think. Someone in my life recently suggested that rather than writing a list of long term goals, that instead I might like to try listing the elements of my perfect day. I found it to be an excellent way of discovering the very ordinary things that bring me happiness. If I can then go forward and create a life that enables me to have more days like that, I’ll be a happy woman.
A life to Aspire to
I read a quote recently that I found really impactful:
“Show your children a version of adulthood that is worth aspiring to”
In my opinion, a life that’s worth aspiring to is a life of contentedness. The tricky part is to work out what REALLY makes you feel contented and not buy into a ‘story’. To try and discern which of your actions and decisions are coming out of that treadmill script.
In terms of parenting, consider what kind of model we provide to our kids when we’re running on our own customised version of the ‘culturally sanctioned achievement treadmill’. What kind of life are we teaching them to create? Our achievement-based culture means that it can be difficult to hear the voice of our authentic selves. Serving the god of “achieve more or bust” can make it hard to know the source of our true happiness.
When looking back to our own childhoods, most of us were given little assistance to get to know who we are and what we love. When we start to try answering these questions as adults, it’s a lot like exercising a new muscle and can be just as uncomfortable.
Just imagine if what you really want turns out to be different from what your drama-and-excitement-loving ego wants you to have in your life? Just what would ‘ordinary you’ look like? What would your kids and their lives look like if you gave them the freedom to just be ordinary? When we can allow and accept our ordinary humanness (and all the discomfort that this will inevitably bring up) what starts to emerge is a profound sense of self-acceptance. I’d like that for my children. Actually, I’d like that for me too.
Why ordinariness brings up so much reactivity
When we consider it in the light of the cultural values we are swimming in, it’s not surprising that the concept of ordinary is one that we reject. One dictionary defines it as “…with no special or distinctive features; normal. Commonplace or standard”.
But, what if these beliefs were keeping me from being happy? Keeping me constantly searching, looking ‘over there’? What if this race for ‘more’ actually keeps me from the things I desire most, which is to rest into myself and my life and be contented?
I’ve definitely had a shift around my relationship with ordinariness. I now see it as a wise friend to be embraced rather than some kind of enemy always waiting to spread a lifeless grey cloak over me and my life. Now it feels like a breath of fresh air, a breath of realness. A breath that teaches me that I am Ok in each and every moment.
Should I sit back and do nothing?
Now, just to be clear, I’m not advocating that we all forget about accomplishing the things that are important to us. Not at all!
In clearly seeing this frenetic serving of the value of extraordinariness, I am becoming increasingly suspicious about why it is that I want to do or achieve certain things. ‘Who’ it is that thinks I should? Is it the real me? Or is it something else driving me? Perhaps it’s the ‘me’ that I have constructed over the years?
I want to know how to make sure that the authentic me is driving the choices I am making in my life,. As a parent, I want to be able to help my children unfold into their own authenticity. How can I do this if I cannot first find my own?
So much of our lives are taken up with very ordinary things. It can make us feel like life is passing us by, and so we seek the ecstatic and the peak moments. When we turn away from the ordinary, we miss out on being present to the beauty that it contains. When we can sit into ordinariness, often contentment may be right there for the taking. And we can reach forward (and achieve) from a place where we are ok just the way we are. It is then that the actions we take and the things we choose to engage with will no longer be ways to simply fill an inner deficiency. They will come from a foundation of “I am OK as an ordinary human”. In that place, there are no treadmills. There’s just you, and who you are.
Western Culture and the rise of the Individual
One of the things I have struggled with (and has given me ample opportunity to try to practise being present) is living in a nuclear family – Mum, Dad and the kids.
Over the last century, we can see an ever-increasing loss of connection with our extended families and our communities. A move away from the whole, to the part. This has placed an enormous amount of pressure on the members within the nuclear family unit, and has resulted in a fractionated world which focuses on individual achievement.
Around a decade ago, I read an article written by a guy called John Travis in which he referred to this family structure as the Nuclear Family Disaster or NFD. This had a deep impact on me as I considered for the first time just how the effects of this structure had become embedded in my culture. There was something about this term “NFD” which really brought home the truly disastrous nature of it.
I was surprised that in really seeing the NFD, I began to feel a kind of relief, which was the last thing I was expecting to feel. This was because I realised that the reason I was finding family life to be so stressful was not due to some inadequacy within me, but that I was having a normal and ordinary human response to a very unnatural situation!
Human beings are social animals, designed to live in highly connected social groups. The way that our culture has evolved (due to a great number of social and cultural forces that I do not have time to go into just now) has meant that in today’s world, we have become disconnected from our communities and extended families. The beliefs, values and practises of community may have disintegrated, but our need for them has never really gone away.
What does this have to do with feeling contented and the concept of ordinariness? I think that in becoming disconnected from each other, we have also become disconnected from ourselves (and our children). The more we break our society down into parts, and focus on the furthering of self rather than the community, we are increasingly lead down a pathway of endless striving to better our own position. This endless striving leads to less contentment.
Our children are surrounded by the myths and stories of individual achievement, success and striving: it’s all around them in books, movies, games. The concept of the ordinary human does not fit here; our society finds ordinary to be dull and uninteresting. “Being ordinary” can bring up real feelings of vulnerability, and being vulnerable is something that most humans run from like the plague. And yet, it is these feelings of vulnerability that will lead us back home to ourselves.
Vulnerability – our key to being fully human
In embracing our ordinariness we are faced with our vulnerability – one of the most difficult things to feel as a human. So much of what we do in our lives may well in fact be a defence against feeling vulnerable. The embarrassment, the shame, the feelings of ‘not being enough’ or not having done something in the way you wanted to. The vulnerability we can feel as parents when our children are ‘acting out’ in public, or when we feel when we are sometimes the parent we least want to be. All of these experiences are very human ones.
There is a very important body of work being done on shame and vulnerability by a researcher by the name of Brene Brown. If you have never seen her TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability, make sure you do –http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html – she brings an incredibly important message.
Our world has wired us into believing that being vulnerable is dangerous. In fact the opposite is true; the real danger lies in leading a life where we are defended against it. Being vulnerable is one of the most difficult places to go to – to touch into the places where we feel we don’t measure up takes so much courage. Yet, I know that when I do feel them (and share them) that it is in these moments I feel most human.
As I find the courage to be fully human – and ordinary – perhaps I can give my children a more useful start on this journey called life. Rather than teaching them to sacrifice what is real, ordinary and true I want to teach them to be open, simple and uncomplicated… and in doing so perhaps become a little freer from all the pressures one can build up inside over the course of a life.
So, I’m going with ordinary, real, vulnerable and present. And I’m finding my way.
©Hilary Jackson 2012