- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
A few days ago I heard two friends greet one another at the gym. One person said “Hey, what’s up?” The response: “Not much.” I paid such close attention to this rather ritualistic exchange (the way many people greet one another nowadays) because it strikes me that this simple little phrase carries an awful lot of baggage with it. People begin a conversation with one another by declaring that “not much is going on" in their lives, nothing to report, just the same old (rather boring) routine of everyday living.
Most of us get up in the morning and do what we usually do every day, we go to work or school, or sit at a computer, cook a meal, take care of the kids, maybe go the gym - nothing special about any of it. It’s very easy to get “stuck in the rut” of the daily routine and so we eagerly anticipate the next big holiday, a weekend trip or a planned vacation - anything to give us a break from a life of “not much” going on
It seems to me that we will see what we “expect” to see in life. If we anticipate that “not much” is going on in the daily routine of our ordinary living, then probably “not much” will be going on. If we look at the world with tired eyes we will see a tired world and if our mind is always thinking about the past or anticipating a “better” future, we will inevitably miss what is actually going on in the moment.
Buddhist teacher, Susan Murphy, offers this observation about living every day:
Don’t miss anything.
Find out what it all means and do what it wants of you
Personally, I find great wisdom in this one little phrase. As I see it, this advice is a good antidote for any of us who may have slipped into the coma of a “stuck in the rut” mentality. I have discovered that when we are really able to embrace life as it comes to us in all its many varied forms, we often find a joy and purpose we never might have imagined.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a “not much” world. Our everyday life can be filled with “much” if we actually believe that everything and everyone counts in every single moment of every single day and then keep our eyes open to “find out what it all means so that we can do what it wants of us.”
I am reminded of one of my favorite Zen stories about a master who would assemble his students every morning in order to encourage, inspire and motivate them before they began the activities of the day. One might expect that the master would give a little “pep talk” urging his novice students to use the day in pursuit of great spiritual heights; instead he began every day by offering his charges this rather simple piece of advice:
Today work at being ordinary
Now, go put on your robes, eat your food and pass the time.
I like the story so much because it teaches me that when I fully embrace my ordinary life as it comes to me I will always find a very extraordinary world. I find spiritual depth by standing on the surface of my daily routine, paying attention to everything that happens.
“Hey what’s up?”
Everything, absolutely everything, because everyone counts and everything counts.