There is a sweet fairy tale about a princess born in the kingdom of Phantasmorania. As the seventh daughter of the King and Queen, she was destined to be the luckiest and most beautiful of all her sisters. On the day of her welcoming ceremony the kingdom was full of excitement. The invited guests showered her with the most extravagant, marvelous gifts imaginable, until her fairy godmother, whose magic was the most powerful in the kingdom proclaimed, “I am going to give you something that will bring you more happiness than all of these gifts put together. You shall be Ordinary.” The King and Queen and their guests were horrified.
And so it was with each passing year, the fairy godmother’s gift became more and more noticeable. Right before their very eyes, the princess became more and more ordinary. She became known as the “Ordinary Princess.” The Queen was quite ashamed of her daughter’s ordinariness and tried very hard to turn her into someone more princess-like. Her efforts were in vain, so the Queen finally gave up. Because no one paid much attention to her anyway, and because everyone seemed so unhappy with her as she was, one day the princess climbed out her bedroom window and ran off into the forest embarking on a journey to explore life on her own terms.
When she ran away from the kingdom, the princess traded in her brocade gown for a plain homespun dress and a print apron. She lived simply in the forest off the land, picking strawberries for lunch and finding roots and nuts for dinner. She communed with the animals of the forest befriending and caring for a little red squirrel and a bright-eyed crow, who became her companions. She enjoyed wandering in the woods, picking and filling her apron with bluebells, climbing trees, and paddling through streams. She was happy.
When she needed money to buy new clothes to replace her old ones, which were ripped and torn from living in the forest, she found work as a kitchen maid in the castle of a neighboring kingdom. She found that she enjoyed her life as an ordinary kitchen maid as much as she enjoyed living in the forest. For the first time in her life she felt useful doing something for others instead of having everything done for her. She felt the pride and satisfaction of drawing a weekly wage that she earned all by herself even if it was just a pittance. She wholeheartedly embraced ordinariness in a way she could not in the kingdom of Phantasmorania, and she loved her life. She felt free.
Like the Queen, our culture emphasizes being the best, having the best, and doing the best, so ordinary is not what most of us want to be identified with. In this age of celebrity we dream of being “rock stars,” and refer to ourselves as goddesses. An overemphasis on being extraordinary is indicative of a serious imbalance. It’s not the desire to be exceptional that is troublesome, it is the belief that we have to be outstanding or exceptional all the time. And if we’re not, then we are inferior, not enough, or even worse, nobody.
The ordinary grounds us and roots us in our humanity. It connects us to one another and gives us a sense of belonging. Contrary to popular belief, it does not deprive us of our individuality. Ordinary and unique co-exist. When we ignore one or the other we are at risk of being one-dimensional and off balance. Finding the mid-line between ordinary and extraordinary eases the burden and anxiety of being only one or the other.
Poet Lucille Clifton writes about discovering her ordinariness in her poem, An Ordinary Woman. She describes herself as being “plain as bread, round as cake, an ordinary woman.” She ends her reflection by saying. “I had expected more than this, I had expected to be more than an ordinary woman.” I suppose most of us, at least some of the time, expect to be more than ordinary, but this poem invites us to actually reflect on our ordinariness. We don’t have to leave our comfortable lives and live in the forest like the Ordinary Princess did, but going deeper into the contemplation reveals that ordinary has much to offer.
in his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore says that our very soul is rooted and grounded in the everydayness of life–in the ordinary, not in the lofty or transcendent. To lead a life of depth and meaning, he says, one must pay attention to life’s small details, its simple pleasures, its mundane routines, as well as its difficulties, challenges, and failures. A full life requires attending to the things around us, and becoming sensitive to the importance of home, family, daily routines, chores, the food we eat, the colors we select, the music we listen to, and even the clothes we wear.
Because she was given the gift of being ordinary, the Ordinary Princess escaped the shallowness of living a one-dimensional, self-centered life of privilege. In the end, through the exploration of her ordinariness, she met and fell in love with a stable boy who turned out to be the King of the castle. They married and she became his Queen–balancing their extraordinary lives by continuing to share and enjoy ordinary pleasures.
It’s a funny thing about ordinary. When you embrace it in its apparent simplicity, you discover its intricacy, depth, and complexity. We tend to ignore the ordinary because we’re used to it. Because it doesn’t stand out, we don’t put the extra effort into acknowledging a sunrise, cloud formations, or the intricate beauty of a budding rose, all ordinary occurrences of nature.
When we ignore the ordinary, we overlook the value of simple pleasures. Without the ordinary the extraordinary is meaningless. You really cannot have a full life without both. They are not opposites. They are yoked. A conscious recognition of their connection is the yoga.
This month challenge yourself to develop your awareness and appreciation of the simple, but important, things in your life.
- Pay attention to what’s going on moment to moment.
- Take time out to notice the sunset.
- Spend an afternoon sharing food and good conversation with friends.
- Enjoy a walk down a garden path.
- Notice the delicate beauty and fragrance of the flowers.
- Offer a kind word to someone in need.
Live from your heart and embrace life’s deep and ordinary pleasures. When you do these simple acts, true beauty in everything rises to the surface and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Embracing the ordinary is not exotic, awesome or amazing, but it is a recipe for good living and a practical down-to-earth philosophy of life. When we embrace the ordinary we become more accepting of other’s foibles and our own. Embracing the ordinary invites us to deal with our daily lives, our successes, our failures, and our mediocrity without having to be perfect. We can relax, enjoy life and have fun.