Sometimes the experience of being human proves difficult. Other times it proves deliciously wonderful. It seems that the two extremes – harrowing in one corner, amazing in the other – natural opponents. These polar opposites have a rather magnetic affect on our attention span, though, wanting desperately to avoid the harrowing and desperately to attract the amazing. All of the in-between stuff, the life stuff, the mediocre, the normal, even the “good” or “fine,” can easily get lost in the web of “being human.”
These experiences, this everyday “stuff,” can easily be lost on us, filed under “not noteworthy” because the day was neither horrendous nor incredible, it was just a day. But isn’t that the beauty of being human after all? That thread of life that stretches on, sometimes redundant, sometimes painful, sometimes blissfully boring, but always stretching on (if we are so blessed).
I realize I’m rambling, but I’m working through a concept here, and you’re invited on this little mental journey as I hash it out. The concept is attaching with more depth to the everyday, seeing the monotonous as extraordinary in its simplicity.
Think back on some of your most pleasant memories. I’m sure a great deal of them involve more leisurely, “perfect” days suspended in time, even over the biggest adventures you’ve experienced. Perhaps not. I’m sure they involve a lot of both, mine do.
I can’t help but recall the time I spent living in Italy. The experience itself, as a whole, is classified as one of my “amazing” life experiences, without a doubt part of the extreme category. Breaking down that experience into individual amazing memories, a few pop into my mind, polar opposites and yet equally heartwarming. The moment when my then boyfriend, whom I met and fell in love with in the Renaissance city of Firenze (romantic overload much?), first uttered those three little words standing on the ancient cobblestones of Piaza Michelangelo overlooking starlit Florentine perfection. . .an amazing experience to the extreme, and yes, one of my most pleasant memories. The other standout memory from my time abroad occurred in my flat, with my two girlfriends, making apple sauce from scratch. We’d lugged probably twenty pounds of apples home from the market, up our five flights of stairs, and unloaded them onto our tiny, rickety kitchen table. Pajamas, improper tools for the task, mountains of apple skins, stories told over coring and cutting, steamy faces as we boiled, stirred, mashed and waited, eating apple skins to pass the time. It was one of the loveliest evenings I experienced in Italy. Who could have known that an evening making apple sauce with absolutely none of the needed implements, two best girlfriends, and bottomless mugs of herbal tea could still, years later, be one of my favorite memories from that time?
While the “amazing” category of experiential extremes are fantastic, and swell our capacity as human beings to encounter future pleasure and joy, they are oftentimes outweighed by the simpler experiences. The simplicity of making apple sauce in a funny Italian kitchen, fingers aching from peeling dozens of apples with a too large knife, every single detail of the night carved into the grooves of my brain, is suspended in time as a warm, cinnamon-scented evening that will never leave me. I suspect it’s because this memory is not strangled by the overwhelming “amazing.”
Does that make sense?
Amazing can be overwhelming. That’s not to say amazing experiences aren’t amazing, they’re the silver lining of life, they open our hearts to the wonder of this world. But, for most of us, the “amazing” is what we live for. We cling to the notion of vacation days, holidays, big events, romantic getaways, proposals, weddings, what have you…there’s nothing wrong with divine anticipation of those fantastic and, yes, amazing milestones. But they can all turn out to be a whirlwind and, in retrospect, short-lived bout of amazingness. So why place so much pressure on them to be perfect, so much emphasis on these “amazing” moments to uphold our joy and to carry us through to the next amazing experience we have planned?
If we allow ourselves to be open to amazing in the everyday, amazing in a different costume, we provide endless opportunities for living with awareness, for soaking up moment.
Think of it this way: a beautiful wedding is “amazing” and creates a picturesque memory, but amazing also comes in the guise of cooking dinner in underwear in the kitchen with your husband and eating by candlelight on a Tuesday night for no reason at all. Something as simple and spontaneous as that can be suspended in time as one of the most romantic nights you’ve ever experienced.
I’m not suggesting we lose our enthusiasm for the planning and enjoyment of really amazing adventures in our lives. I’m simply wondering how our lives would shift if we treated them more as the really exquisitely sweet cherries in a bowl full of ripe, juicy fruit. Allow the everyday, the normal, the “good,” to
take your breath away from time to time. Try to see an empty afternoon, free from plans or worries, as one heavy with potential to create a warm memory. It doesn’t have to be chock full of adventure or marvelous plans. Failing to fill each day with extraordinary plans and experiences is a gift; we are so much more able to soak up the simple wonder of a day lived slowly, with mindful attention, with gratitude.
So with as much fervor as you plan your upcoming holiday time off, plan a relaxing evening with your partner, children, or just for yourself. Whether it’s cooking a nice meal in a warm home, running a soothing bath and playing your favorite music, taking yourself to a film all by yourself, or an impromptu game night with your children…open yourself up to the little bits of amazing in every moment.
Now, dare me to say “amazing” one more time…