An ‘extra-ordinary’ life is distinct from an extraordinary life

When I speak, I speak. When you listen, you listen to me speaking.  Yet, I live in my world – a unique world.  And you live in your world – a unique world.  Given that is the case how can I be sure that I have generated the understanding, the experience, that I intend with my  speaking?  And how can you be sure that what you have heard me say is what I actually spoke?

This speaking and the listening brought to the speaking is particularly troublesome when it comes to ideas like extraordinary.  So it is likely that some of you upon hearing me speak of an ‘extra-ordinary’ life or ‘extra-ordinary’ living will have collapsed this with extraordinary life and extraordinary living.   They are not the same, they are distinct.  Allow me to bring the distinction to life through a personal story.

When I was a child, before the age of 5, my life showed up as ‘extra-ordinary’ and there was nothing extraordinary about me or my life.  I grew up in a farming community in a poor part of Pakistani controlled Kashmir.  My mother was poor and we lived in a mud house.  We had just enough to eat.  I remember pleading with my mother for some milk which she would not give me because she sold it to buy stuff that she did not grow. The outward appearance was distinctly ordinary for that part of the world: one boy among many boys; one farmer’s dwelling just like many of the other dwellings in the area.

Yet, when I travel back in time and re-experience my life, at that age and in that place, it shows up as an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. I flowed with life and life flowed through me. In this ‘extra-ordinary’ living I don’t remember ever saying to myself “I am better or worse than someone else”.  And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am good/bad”.  I don’t remember saying to myself “There is something great/defective about me.” And I don’t remember thinking “I need to improve this/that about me.” I don’t remember saying “Something is missing.”  Nor do I remember saying “This is hard work”.  And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am bored, I need to find something to do”.  I don’t remember saying “This is a good person, this is a bad person.” Nor do I remember saying to myself “I am poor or we are poor.”  I am sure that I never said to myself “There is something wrong with my life.”

I do remember that some of the baby chicks that I loved and was responsible for feeding (water and food) died. I don’t remember saying “It is my fault. I am bad.” Nor do I remember saying “It is his/her fault for not giving me the water/food I needed to feed my baby chicks!”

I do remember being absorbed in living.   I remember getting up early and being occupied for the entire day and going to sleep exhausted.  I remember liking some people and not liking others – yet just getting on with them, with living.  I remember liking being with my dog and not liking my mother chaining my dog up and not letting me play with him.  I do remember joy in playing out all day.  And I do remember great sadness when some of my baby chicks died. I remember laughter (lots of it) especially when I was playing with my dog and my friends.  And I remember a waterfall of tears when I woke up to find my dog (my best friend) missing and not finding him day after day.  I remember that one day the tears dried up and I got busy being absorbed in life and living.

I hope that you have gotten the difference between ‘extra-ordinary’ living and extraordinary living.  You and I have the power to transform our experience of living from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extra-ordinary’ whilst living an ordinary life or an extraordinary life.

It occurs to me that so many of us are chasing that extraordinary life (of being the best, of being rich, of being looked up to, of pleasure….) and in the process we sacrifice the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living – the kind of living that I experienced in the first five years of my life.  And I say it is never too late to transform the quality of our lives – to shift from the chase of the extraordinary life to generating the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living.

How exactly did an ‘ordinary’ meal show up as an ‘extra-ordinary’ experience?

The Experience

The other day I woke up, got ready, drove my youngest to school and set about working.  Being totally engrossed in my work I arrived at 13:30 – all that I was committed to doing was done.  That is when I noticed how hungry I was – really hungry – and so I made my way down to the kitchen.  Around about two o’clock I experienced eating a DELICIOUS meal.  What was extraordinary about this particular meal?

The food? No – it was simply white pasta with green pesto, leaves of lettuce and cherry tomatoes mingling with French vinaigrette.  This is a dish that I had eaten earlier in the week and not even noticed it.

The setting? No – I was sit in my kitchen on the usual stool, in the usual position, at the usual height, looking at the usual stuff.

The ambience?  No – I was alone, there was no television or music or anything else happening.  In that sense it was a meal like countless others I have taken part in.

So what made the experience of this meal such a special experience?   Hunger was present in a BIG way – it showed up in my world as being ‘starving’ and ‘lacking energy’.  Coming from this context I experienced each mouthful – I actually was present to and tasted each mouthful of food.  I tasted the pasta, the green pesto, the salad leaves, the cherry tomatoes and the vinaigrette.  Every mouthful showed up as perfect.

What I am Taking Away From This / Committed to Keeping in Existence

So often I, you, we are looking for stuff on the outside.  How often have I looked for the right restaurant, the right food, the right date to create an extraordinary dining experience – one that I would enjoy, one that I would remember?  Countless times.

Yet the access to the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living is on the inside – my, your, our inner state of being.  Notice:  when real hunger is present the most ordinary of foods (in our usual way of perceiving stuff) shows up as extraordinary!

Final Thought

When I mention to people that I am committed to ‘Playing BIG’ and living an ‘extra-ordinary life’ many automatically assume that I am going to do extraordinary stuff like perhaps climb Mountain Everest.  That is not what I am pointing at when I use the term ‘extra-ordinary’.  When I use the term ‘extra-ordinary’ I am pointing at the internal dimension that allows for the ‘ordinary’ to show up as ‘extraordinary’ in lived experience.  Or as Dan Millman writes in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: “there are no ordinary moments”.  That is the game I am playing: living in a way that all moments show up as ‘extra-ordinary’ moments in my living.  How will I fare in this game?


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