Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Nothing Special: On the Value of Being Ordinary

We've all run across the knitter who does the flashy stuff-the brioche, the cables, the intricate colourwork.  She loves complex garments, difficult patterns. Meanwhile, someone else is quietly knitting garter stitch, the plainest, most basic of stitches. While she sometimes knits simple garments, she may knit nothing but scarves. Who is the better knitter? If your answer is, "The flashy knitter," the answer is, "No."  If you think you've spotted the trick question and answered, "The quiet garter stitch knitter," the answer is still "No."  I would argue that the better knitter is the one who recognizes her talents, who knits to her best effort and who thinks that everyone else can achieve that goal, too.

We all know the knitter who thinks she is better than every other knitter. She may do the flashy stuff because she thinks these things highlight her unique abilities. If the flash fails to attract your attention, she'll be sure to point out the beauty of her work. She knows "the right way to knit." (Or spin, or weave, or whatever might be on the menu that day.) She hates to be challenged on her ability and reacts badly to anything perceived as a threat to her skills. We may think that the flashy knitter's behaviour is the most obvious and the most annoying, but this concept of "I'm special because I do this," is not limited to the flashy knitter.  It might well be that the quiet person knitting simple fabrics is the one who wishes to be special, to set herself apart.  Both knitters may share the mindset: "I am Special."

We all have those moments.  There are days when I want to teach all-the-yogas, even more days where I'm convinced that I should be teaching all the fibre classes because I'm good at what I do and no one can do it better. I feel resentment when Others don't appreciate just how special I am. I don't have to follow any rules because I am beyond any structures except the ones I acknowledge. I have nothing to learn from anyone else less practised, less educated, in other words, those who are "less" than I am. I think these things because I am Human; those moments of arrogance and unmindful rebellion pop up because my mind is often unsettled.  The question is not whether these thoughts are bad-they're not. They're just thoughts. Here are the real questions: does this idea of needing to be Special serve us well? What should we do with these thoughts?

In our younger days, in a conversation we had years ago about living life, Mr. DD said this, "It's very hard to become ordinary."  Mr. DD is a very smart man, so I knew he was telling me something important, but I couldn't grasp his meaning.  Why on earth would we strive to become ordinary? What value is there in being one of the crowd, of blending in with the pack, of not seeking and revealing our special-ness to the world? Are there not enough ordinary people in this world? These questions have stayed with me as I move through my journey, with my fibre work, with yoga, with the process of being.  Once in a while, I would get a glimpse of what becoming ordinary might mean, but I haven't been able to articulate my thoughts.

Today, I happened to notice Judith Lasater's book, Living Your Yoga, on a shelf downstairs.  In it, I read:
If you expect more from yourself than from others, you are saying that you are better than others and, therefore, must perform at a superior level (emphasis mine). I do not mean that you should not set goals for yourself. Rather, the question is, how do you react if you cannot meet these goals? Honestly admitting that you may not have done your best is not judgment. It is judgment when you draw a conclusion about yourself (or others-my addition) based on your ideas about failure. (Lasater, p.24)
There it was: I understood what Mr. DD meant.  The fact is that we are all special and we are all ordinary. Our culture has trained us to think that, in order to contribute, in order to be of value to society and the world, we must raise ourselves up, often by scrambling up the backs of other people.  We have to be separate and apart, more and special, better than ourselves and most certainly better than others.  In other words, this concept of not-being-ordinary, when taken to its fullest extent, is another trap set for us.  If we're always trying to be better, we'll always be seeking more.  We will stay in judgment, of ourselves and of others. We will view others and ourselves as outsiders. We will always feel that we do not belong.

Think for a moment what that might mean, of how powerful a force ordinary people could become if only we realized that it's the commonplace which unites us.  Think of how great it would be to see everyone on an equal playing field, recognizing the value of each person without thinking that, as individuals, we must rise above (and by virtue of that, become isolated). Think of the burden lifted from ourselves and everyone if we quit the competition and recognized the special ordinariness of our Selves. As Judith notes, this doesn't mean that we give up goals and aspirations. It's important that we recognize our talents and purpose in this life and apply them, without thinking that we are special, that no one can possibly understand us because our talents are unique.  That's simply not true.  Deep down, in our hearts, we know this.  Telling ourselves that we are unique is an invitation to suffering. Recognizing that we are all Special in our ordinary ways and lives opens our hearts to the possibility that we are all One.

One of many; All lovely

My practice requires effort to take that running conversation in my head, the one in which I think I'm so special that I must teach all things to everyone, that I must be important, ever striving and focus on the recognition that, "I'm good at what I do."  My practice requires effort to incorporate the concept, "Others are good at what they do, too." My practice requires effort to let things settle and be. My practice requires effort to do the work without attaching my Self to the results. My practice requires effort to not apply too much effort. I must practise letting go of Special-ness and move towards embracing the freedom of Ordinary-ness.

Mr. DD may not practise yoga, but he understands the meaning of something I've struggled with for a very long time, the true intention of the word:



  1. I've never been competitive, can't be bothered entering shows, don't care about winning any kind of game. And yet, at the same time, I don't think anybody will find me useful unless I'm absolutely brilliant at what I do (I have yet to find that since I also like to dabble in just about anything. In fact, I'm an expert dabbler). I hate standing out but I don't want to conform just because. It's a strange conundrum.

    1. This "becoming ordinary" practice is tough work, sometimes, and a bit of a puzzle!

  2. great post about a life-long practice! thank you.

  3. I love this post. Love, love, LOVE it. You are wonderful.