Beauty in the commonplace


The ordinary cannot be debased as insignificant, because with a change in perspective the most ordinary things take on an inexpressible beauty

People are averse to the sameness, the boring uniformity of daily living and long for a difference. There is the simmering discontent and envy of those they think are leading more eventful lives. Still, there are those who welcome the everyday life, one day being like the other.

Not everybody would like to disrupt that beautiful ordinariness they have so far experienced where nothing much is hoped for, nothing great anticipated, where ambitions are achievable, where enough can be plenty and life just goes by. Those who see the “freedom in the daily rituals”, the quiet joy of the morning walk, the cooing of a bird, the supervising of a child’s lesson, the sincere hours at the workplace and a well-earned rest at home are no less happy than those who live in the larger bustle of life.

To those with a creative spark, there could be a picture to paint, a line to write which enhances the day. Not all of us can be “movers or shakers” but we can still enjoy life. “In small proportions we just beauties see/And in their short measures life may perfect be…”

To see the sun rise, the flower bloom, and the leaf dance and experience a sense of elation are to make things happen, enliven a life. It is finding the sacred and the wonder in everyday spaces. To scrub, dust and cook and pay attention to every humdrum detail, and see the fruits of your labours in polished surfaces, sparkling floors, wholesome cuisine and well-done laundry flapping on the clothesline is a fulfilment. The ordinary cannot be debased as insignificant, because with only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on an inexpressible beauty. The very best books are about nothing at all other than planning a party like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. “No pleasure could equal, she thought, straightening the chairs, pushing in one book on the shelf, this having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of living, to find it with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day sank.”

To continue with the commonplace joys, to look at familiar faces, the milkman, the courier boy, the domestic help who stand on the fringes of your existence, with an understanding and cheerfulness, is to give them a recognition, a dignity and fellow feeling. We must learn to live with the transience of everything and it is possible to make a life of happiness in the mundane and the routine. Karen Maezen Miller, Zen Buddhist priest and author, says poetically, “Rake the leaves: rake, weed or sweep. You’ll never finish for good; but you’ll learn the point of pointlessness.” A meaning in the heart of meaninglessness.

These intimate encounters with our lives remind us of the Greek myth of Sisyphus who eternally rolls his rock to the mountain top from which it perpetually rolls down. Albert Camus says Sisyphus is happy in the depths of his soul for the attempt alone satisfies him. This is the symbol of life.

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