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.

On speaking


As human beings we speak.  Some even argue that language is what sets us apart – makes us uniquely human.  Yet, it is a gift that most of us are born with and simply take it for granted.  Very few of us really think about this gift and how best to use it.  It kind of reminds me of the community that I grew up in – the muslim community.  Almost everyone was born into and embraced the rituals yet almost no-one had any knowledge or understanding of the genesis of Islam nor the social reform and human centred values that were the foundations of Islam.

So we have a gift – this ability to speak with our fellow wo/man and be understood if we speak the same language.  Now the question is what frame can we put around this gift of speech, of communication?  More importantly, what is the most beautiful use of this gift?

When it comes to frames we have many choices. We can simply put no frame around it and continue as we are: spraying our words all over the place, they land where they land, they have the impact that the have.  We describe stuff, we make up explanations, we complain, we criticise, we gossip behind each others backs, we make up lies, we provide directions, we command, we compliment, we give form to our dreams and so forth.   This is the hidden, taken for granted, frame which gives form to our speaking.

I’d like to suggest a very different frame.  What if each of us, even most of us, were to view gift of speech in a radically different way?  What if we reserved speaking for creating affinity, affection and connection with our fellow human beings.  For example:

  • we share our likes and dislikes and what we want and need from our fellow human beings instead of criticising others – what they have or have not done;
  • giving ourselves and our fellow human beings wings to pursue our interests, ambitions and dreams instead of squelching them out of fear, jealousy or spite;
  • creating affinity and connection with our fellow human beings through acceptance, validation and the generally sharing of our humanity as opposed to creating distance and hatred which is all to common when we criticise, condemn and diminish our fellow human beings;
  • inspiring ourselves and our fellow human beings to bring the best of our humanity – benevolence – into fruit more often in a wider range of situations;
  • providing information – without preaching – that our fellow human beings are likely to find useful in living a good life;
  • to bring into being the kind of world that we want to live as illustrated by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen;
  • talking about and resolving our differences in a way that recognises our need to find solutions that work for us all.

I am suggesting a frame in which our speaking is such that we do not attack, invalidate, exclude and criticise our fellow human beings.  What kind of a world can we create if I was to step into this frame?  And if you were to step into this frame?  And we were to step into this frame?

How about starting the practice, right now, for now to the New Year?  Are you willing to give it a wholehearted go? I am and I hope that you will join me. if you think that this is easy for me then you really do not know me that well!  I have been immersed in the language of criticism from the age of 5 and I mastered it a long time ago.