This was a perfect challenge to seek presence and positive-mindedness for a sleepy, soggy Sunday. I ate breakfast amid a downpour, sheltered by the eaves, watching the sky slowly ensconce Big Buddha and the hills, until it was just me, the pool and the greenery surrounding the house. My plans to hike up to said Buddha, enjoy brunch on the ocean and soak up every angle of Thai sun and sand were thwarted. There’s no fighting a downpour day in a beach town, and it’s easy to write off those rainy hours just as time to be tolerated.
Which is how I got interested in the words that make this seemingly simple challenge one of depth and complexity. As we’re going beyond the mundane, let’s take a moment to look into the meanings of two of the words thoughtfully scribed by its lovely author (who is literally an author), Adam Lewis:
free (tr. v.)
1: To set at liberty; make free: freed the slaves; free the imagination
2: To relieve of a burden, obligation, or restraint: a people who were at last freed from fear
3: To remove obstructions or entanglements from; clear: free a path through the jungle
1: lacking interest or excitement; dull: his mundane, humdrum existence
2: of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one: according to the Shinto doctrine, spirits of the dead can act upon the mundane world
The idea that one needs to be relieved from the dull or earthly fascinates me. It’s easy to accept the commonplace and to write it off as a necessary part of life that needs to be tolerated. I’m not suggesting that the mundane shouldn’t exist, or that it should be transformed into scintillating and heavenly pleasure. We need the dull to know the fascinating. We need the empty to feel the full. But it’s when the mundane overgrows the divine that it becomes a burden.
Before I left on my trip, even the most exciting experiences started to feel like another spin of the hamster wheel. The dance class I anticipated all week? My body began to go through the moves without feeling. The steak I drooled over? I knew how it was going to taste. The new brand we were designing? My brain was so stuffed with check-lists that creativity became a midnight snack. Actions budded into habits, and habits overgrew my spontaneity.
Being shocked out of every comfort, from language to clothing to food, is what shook me out of the mundane. I had to relearn everything. I had to adapt every moment. I had to stop thinking about myself and my goals, and start surviving each day. I had to let go of my plans and, at times, do the exact opposite of what I had in mind. When I started to uproot myself of my habits and thinking, every action felt like it held the promise of excitement or serendipity.
But like any lush garden, there’s a balance; we need the big trees of our passions and pursuits to shelter the young ideas. We need a mix of different experiences to keep the soil fertile, and to attract the birds. And we need the mundane to slide over the leaves and under the roots to keep the ground fertilized. But, like a vine, it can choke the roots and overgrow the bark, if left untended.
While a sabbatical is the ultimate weed-whacker, it’s not always feasible nor is its constant uprooting sustainable. Keeping the mundane clipped takes work and care. It’s easy to stay within the common and comfortable (because new ideas and new habits take work!) especially when, after a while, its familiarity can begin to feel soft and mossy.
So, here are some of the gardening tips I’ve picked up along the way to keep the creative, spontaneous and divine growing like weeds:
… Figure out what feels “dull” and contain it… or find a way to make it exciting.
… Find something to be curious about every day.
… Wander (physically, creatively or emotionally) for 10 minutes a day.
… Connect. Ask with an open heart, not in expectation of a solution.
… Listen. Don’t speak or think. Just sit with that voice (or take it for a walk around the block) and let it chat to you.
The mundane doesn’t have to be a burden or an obligation. It can simply be a comforting thread through which the serendipitous can blossom and bloom… But only if it’s well tended.