“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner.” – Tibetan proverb.
Mmmh. Does that make the lowest art the art of living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner?
If so, then I’m afraid that’s exactly what I’ve been up to.
I guess, first I need to define “ordinary”.
Ordinary – a life that resembles that most commonly lived by the majority of people in one’s culture and society. In my case, I associate “ordinary” with working a 9-5, getting a paycheck, having an immobile home, with flush toilets, and a stove that requires neither denatured alcohol nor lighter. In an ordinary life, people wake up, get dressed, commute to work, spend the day on tasks possibly unrelated to their felt or imagined life-purpose, then maybe fit in some exercise for an hour or so after work, connect with friends, eat a meal, fall asleep, repeat.
(Please note that I count among my friends many who fit this description, yet each shine in a precise, unique way as to never EVER make their lives any less remarkable or fascinating than that of my other friends’, the wildlings, the transients, the roamers. But for the sake of labels and description, let’s use this definition for now.)
For the past 5, 6, or maybe 7 years, I have lived an “extraordinary” life.
Extraordinary – The opposite. No 9-5, no paycheck, no shower, flush toilets or kitchen, unless provided by providence, no schedule, dress-code, lunch breaks, coworkers, boss, time-sheets, no place to which to return at night, because home was with me all along.
Recently, after roaming the reds, tans and browns of the southwest desert for a few months, I began to crave green, as I often do this time of year.
I have that extra bit of hematite in my pineal gland, the same kind that launches flocks of wild geese across the globe. Twice a year, migration knocks on my mind’s door.
And when it does, I can think of little else.
So, I flew north. As they do.
Green meant New Hampshire this year.
New Hampshire meant driving 3,000 miles.
3,000 miles meant the complete bottom end of my saved funds.
Now, I could have, and have in the past, just tighten my belt, followed my whims and expected a miracle. This has been my M.O. for all of my extraordinary years. But this time, something was different. It wasn’t the fact that I got here fasting (and dropped about 10 Lbs) so that I’d have enough cash for fuel to even get here. I’ve written that particular story-line in my life often, and always with a happy ending. It wasn’t the fact that the Catmobile is approaching 280,000 miles and can barely break 35 mph uphill. My love needs love of the mechanical kind. Again, a familiar story-line, harbinger of miracles. It wasn’t, either, the pressure to conform, the need for security, or anything of that sort. I wasn’t tired of roaming, or confused or shameful about my lifestyle. No, none of these … my extraordinary had just become my ordinary, and I needed to shake things up.
So, I did something out of my ordinary – I got two jobs, and parked the Catmobile in a stationary spot. A spot where I have access to friends, a lawn, flush toilets, a shower, a shelf on a fridge and a 4-burner stove (and also, of course, mountains, rivers, woods, etc). Oh my!
I get to be a barista and a yoga instructor for the summer (at least). I am loving waking up in the morning and knowing exactly what I’m doing – I’m going to work. Yay! Normally, I sit on my tailgate for a while in the morning, pondering what, out of an infinity of possibilities, I should do with my wild and wonderful life for that day. Oh, the freedom of not having to decide or even think. I wake up with an alarm, at the same time every day – not when I feel like it or when the sun has made the truck too warm to continue sleeping, but at a precise number on the wheel of human arbitrarily segmented time. I then get to walk through the woods for 35 minutes. That’s my commute. I have to keep a fast pace or I’ll be late. If I’m late to clock in, even by a few minutes, a notice dings on the manager’s phone – because technology now allows such things to exist. Because I work for kind people, it isn’t an issue, but still, if I’m going to have a 9-5, I intend to do it well.
The next 8 hours of my life are not mine to ponder or manage. I make smoothies and fresh pressed juices for health-conscious, wealth-comfortable people. I create espressos, lattes, mochas, iced and steamed, and practice my budding latte foam art. I arrange health food on the shelves and ensure the cooler of iced teas and kombucha is fronted – which literally means bringing all the bottles to the front, in an OCD fashion. When the flow of customers allows it, I retire to the back parking lot with a plate of food from the selection we serve, for 30 minutes exactly. There is a beautiful field we call Narnia and a small beach by the Saco river down a dirt road from where I sit, but it would take about 15 minutes to walk to the river, so 30 minutes there and back, my entire lunch break. So instead, I just sit in the parking lot, in the sun, often with friends, who are also co-workers, and enjoy it. I have a boss. He tells me I’m doing a good job. I get a paycheck. It’s not a big paycheck – it’s not like guiding Grand Canyon or trimming 650 Lbs of marijuana. And because it’s a legal job, I have to give some of it to Uncle Sam. But, it’s a regular influx. And I don’t wonder what miracle will feed me next, because I know there’ll be a paycheck. And that is relaxingly nice, for a change..
I can live and hike in the most mind-bogglingly beautiful desert and barely notice, because my child-like awe for the world is filtered through half-closed eyelids, weighed by personal existential quandaries.
I can make each latte, each smoothie the best I’ve ever made, with exact proportions and an extra dose of love with each added scoop of pea protein or spirulina, and align each kombucha bottle with precision, and feel as alive as I have in my most epic moments.
Was I living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner? Am I now living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. What is the measure of one’s life’s normality? And does it even matter? What story do I create for and about myself when I meander the world or rush through the woods to clock on time?
Do I bring any added value to the world when I live one way rather than the other? Does it matter to the world what I do? Does it matter to the woods? Do trees find me less extraordinary because they suspect my destination? By a tree’s standard, am I more ordinary when I act like a wildling? Isn’t that what all the creatures of the woods do? Don’t they also just wake up when they do, look for food, and wander? If the paycheck allows me to buy a bag of nut I share with a squirrel, do squirrels find me extraordinary?
On the day when I had my interview and was hired as a barista, I walked across the parking lot – the same one where I have lunch now – back to the Catmobile. Right there on the ground, as though left for me, a humbly muddy piece of paper with an ancient-scroll-like handwriting caught my eye. “The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. – Tibetan proverb” it said. I thought it was so fitting for the occasion that I pinned in on the inside wall of my bedroom, in the back of the truck. But with each passing work day, the less I feel this is right.
If the trees and squirrels don’t care what I do, and I don’t care what humans thinks about what I do, then the judgment is solely internal, a direct reflection of conditioning, a learned reaction to the perception of “ordinary” vs. “extraordinary”. And suddenly, both loose all meaning.
All lives are ordinary, all lives are extraordinary, and the amount to which we are able to love our lives, beyond any labels, I think THAT is the highest art of living.
(My daily commute to work. 🙂 )