“My daily affairs are quite ordinary; but I’m in total harmony with them. I don’t hold on to anything, don’t reject anything; nowhere an obstacle or conflict. Who cares about wealth and honor? Even the poorest thing shines. My miraculous power and spiritual activity: drawing water and carrying wood.”
These are the words of an ancient Zen master speaking about his experience in daily life following the realization of profound, enduring peace. These words are believed to be written about 5000 years ago, yet they carry wisdom that we all can benefit from today.
The Ordinary is Extraordinary
Peace cannot be found anywhere other than in this present moment. We may enjoy fantasizing about the future or replaying an entertaining memory, but true peace and lasting happiness are realized when the mind chatter quiets and we dissolve into the flow of life. When all of our thoughts about ourselves are put to rest, we no longer exist as separate beings – we are at one with the unfolding of life.
Then we are free to directly experience what is here. Without the usual mind activity – ceaseless commentary, planning, analyzing, etc. – we are alive to just what is in front of us. Washing dishes becomes a play of textures, eating dinner a symphony for the senses.
Many of us live in the ideas about what our lives will be like when…when we are wealthier, thinner, settled down…fill in your version of your future life. Life is happening right now – this breath, these words, the sensations of sitting and movement, the constant and subtle changes of the inner body.
Can you give yourself fully to the most ordinary task? What do you notice?
In Harmony with Daily Affairs
When we are present to what is, we show up in our lives without reservation. As Layman P’ang says, we don’t hold on to anything or reject anything, so we are at harmony with ordinary daily affairs. We are relaxed, unruffled, alert, aware. We do what needs to be done without resistance or drama.
This teaching invites us to consider how we are out of harmony with daily life. What would it take to discover harmony? What is in the way of being fully with the simple moments of your existence?
Consider everything that happens: brushing your teeth, preparing food, talking with a loved one, anything work-related. Can you carry out these activities without getting lost?
If not, can you lovingly get to the heart of how you are taken away?
Layman P’ang says, “Even the poorest thing shines.” This brilliant statement asks us to investigate: is there anything we are dismissing, avoiding, or denigrating? Are we identifying something or someone as “poor,” and failing to see the reality of its shining essence?
As I write this, I am reminded of a woman I knew in my early 20’s, and it is not my proudest moment. At the time, I was bent on being cool and hip, an identity I adopted with a vengeance. Susan was sweet, prim, and proper, and clearly wanted to be my friend.
I judged Susan in my mind, which led me to reject her friendship. I was viewing her through the film of my opinions about what was cool. I was certainly not seeing her shining essence.
Is there anything you are evaluating – a physical sensation, a person, an emotion, an activity – as not worthy of your attention, as something you feel entitled to ignore, as something you pretend doesn’t exist?
Seeing things as they are, without the judgments of the mind, illuminates the extraordinary nature of the most ordinary appearance. We stop striving for perfection, thrills, or the big stamp of approval. We don’t need to go anywhere for satisfaction because just what is here is unendingly full and complete.
When we are at one with life, when we see things as they are, the deepest fulfillment is revealed in the most simple experiences.
Everything can be transformed by our attention to the ordinary. When we truly see what we take for granted, endless worlds open up. Try bringing your awareness to the most mundane activities, and see what secrets are waiting to be discovered.
I’d love to hear about your experiences. What do you notice as you become aware of the ordinary?