Saturday, May 18, 2013

Everyday Things: a mindset for making the most of the mundane

"For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.
What matters therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment".   VIKTOR FRANKL

21st century life

Too often we find ourselves living frenetic lives, overwhelmed by the demands of others. Even by our own demands and strivings for extrinsic power, possessions, financial success and social recognition. As we focus on what we see as being of paramount importance. This vulnerability is fuelled by snake-oil sales persons and their irresistible elixirs of life: how to make a million dollars in 12 months, how to apply the law of attraction, 12 steps to happiness …… Positive psychology gone wrong.  And we remain unhappy with our lot. The simple pleasures of life are relegated to the ‘when I find time’ drawer of our minds.

Picture the modern family at dinner time. Gobble-and-go meals not only take place at McDonalds, KFC, Burger King but have moved into homes. Ipads, Ipods, cell phones, TV provide ample distraction. Conversation, connection, sharing is absent. In answer to a question following a talk, about what should be done to improve the fabric of society, management guru and social commentator Charles Handy wisely replied after a long consideration: “re-introduce the family meal”. Perhaps the situation will worsen as more people work from home, and no longer travel to a different place of work.   

We seem to be losing our capacity for simple joys. These are increasingly perceived to be mundane interruptions and inconveniences. My dictionary defines mundane as being dull, routine + worldly, not spiritual. The implication is that the mundane is unimportant.

Developing a mind-set in order to make the most of the mundane

Author of Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore has this to say: “When people talk about finding meaning in life, they imply that they can figure things out and set them right. But meaning that makes life worth living may be nothing more than a moment’s realization, a sensation, such as the touch of your baby’s skin ……”1

He brings to mind: 

·        The Louis Armstrong hit of yesteryear I see trees of green, red roses too, I see em bloom, for me and for you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. I see skies of blue, clouds of white. Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky, Are also on the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands, sayin ‘how do you do’. They're really sayin ‘I love you’. I hear babies cry. I watch them grow. They'll learn much more than I'll never know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”.2

·        Some of the things we’ve talked about in past articles and newsletters: the effortless reflection and state of being that happens while walking a labyrinth, wabi sabi – seeing beauty in imperfection, mindfully savouring and enjoying a glass of wine, taking time to reflect and ‘sharpen the saw’, remembering and listening to a dream, gazing at an icon

·        Washing dishes after a communal meal at the Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo while still in ‘noble silence’, doing a spot of writing and ‘capturing thoughts’, listen to Neil Diamond’s “Hell Yeah” will cocooned in a car in standstill traffic, reading a good detective yarn (a microcosm of wider life and the search to discover, solve, overcome?)

Moore talking about “one of Plato’s expressions for care of the soul, techne tou biou, the craft of life. Care of the souls requires craft (techne) – skill, attention, and art. To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is the very heart of soul-making”.3

It’s in the mind. It’s in the body. And it’s in the senses. And the soul.

The Kinesthetic Body   Make Sense?

The word kinesthetic comes from Kinema, meaning motion and Ethesia, meaning sensing. Mind, body, senses come together when we’re most truly alive.

“All her senses were alert. She listened for sounds of breathing or small scufflings; looked to see if there were any tell-tale signs of recent habitation; smelled the air for the distinctive odors of carnivorous animals, or fresh scat, or gamey meat, opening her mouth to allow her taste buds to catch the scent; let her bare skin detect any sense of warmth that might come from the cave (touch), and allowed intuition to guide her as she noiselessly approached the opening (movement). She stayed close to the wall, crept up on the dark hole, and looked in”.4

Moore sees “……….certain quality of existence, a divine layer of meaning made accessible through sensations”.1

So remember that the best things in life are free, and take time out from your busy life to find meaning in the everyday things, the simple things, the small things, the mundane. Use as a mantra the Viktor Frankl insight that began this blogpost.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The beyond is not what is infinitely remote, but what is nearest at hand”.


1. Moore, Thomas  Original Self  Perennial 2000

2. Songwriters: Dietz, Howard, Schwartz, Arthur: What a Wonderful World

3. Moore, Thomas Care of the Soul Piatkus 1992

4. Aurel, Jean  The Valley of the Horses Simon & Schuster NY 1982




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