The Extraordinary Ordinary

When I was younger (well, really, until two years ago), the ordinary sounded boring. Just the word “ordinary” made me feel cranky, as if I was being sentenced to a lifetime of wearing faded brown muumuus that could fit my aunt Lucy, my cousin Poppy, and me. I wanted big success, big love, big highs and couldn’t understand anyone who didn’t. When my friend Maria told me that she had no desire to stand out and preferred raising her children and growing dahlias instead, I felt sorry for her. I secretly believed that she’d given up on having an extraordinary life and was now settling for a dull-brown-muumuu existence. And that in doing so, she was missing the point – the exhilaration – of being alive.

After decades of pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain, I reached (what I’d imagined as) the top. Or, at least, a very tall mountainette. The place where the extraordinary was supposed to live. Where I could finally have The Big Life.

And here’s what the top felt like: Immense satisfaction and gratitude at reaching so many people; relief and more gratitude at making money after losing almost every cent; exhaustion as big as the gratitude; and being so busy responding to requests for various things that I forgot (or was too busy to notice, which is the same thing) that I had a husband, family, dog, garden, an exaltation of hummingbirds outside my window. I forgot to listen to the whistle of the wind in the redwood trees. And although I live in a forest, I forgot the trees themselves. I forgot about anything that wasn’t supporting or contributing to the extraordinary life I was too tired to enjoy. By trying to have, and then keep up, the life I dreamed about, I was missing the life I already had.

In Into Thin Air, Jon Kraukauer writes that when he reached the top of Mt. Everest he realized (this is a paraphrase) it was just a square piece of earth with colored flags flapping in the wind. He stopped there for a few minutes and then, exhausted and depleted from climbing 57 hours, he immediately began the descent. After he returned home, he said that what he most appreciated was “being able to get up in the middle of the night, barefoot, and walk to the bathroom.”


Walking. Being barefoot. The fact of night. Stars. Salamanders. A sip of tea. A bite of chocolate. My husband’s face. The ordinary things we pass by on the way to wherever it is we think we will finally be able to relax — and enjoy the ordinary things.

Like many of us, I believed that there was a destination where the extraordinary (with no down sides) lived. And part of my fuel to get there was the conviction that if I worked hard enough, lived big enough, my Life dues would be paid and I would be allowed to stop. To be.

I was passionate (and still am) about my work, but I began to understand that working eighteen-hour days did not automatically give me permission to stop working eighteen-hour days. And splashy success didn’t automatically translate to allowing myself to rest. They often led to being worried that if I stopped pushing, success would escape me and I’d fall behind. The Big Get kept eluding me, kept being one step ahead of me. If only I could catch it by trying harder, living bigger and running faster. After banging my head against the wall of “it’s out there, it has to be out there” thousands of times, I realized I’d spent my life trying to earn something that was already mine.

It turns out that the true extraordinary isn’t reserved for special people or big achievements or red-carpet-moments. It’s extraordinary to write a book, and it’s extraordinary to eat a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes and mustard. It’s extraordinary to meet a famous person, and it’s extraordinary to meet the eyes of a grocery store cashier. When I pay attention to what is in front of me, the seemingly ordinary things are backlit with the extraordinary: the hum of the refrigerator, the yellow sponge, the trill of a finch.

Now, instead of lurching forward, I step back. Instead of looking for the extraordinary, I look at it. If I get breathless or anxious that I am falling behind and that everyone else will get there before me, I remind myself that the top is just a square of earth you pass on your way down. And that no moment, no place, is better than this breath, this foot touching the cool floor in the middle of the night.

You can learn a whole new way to relate to food – and explore the foundation upon which you build your life and your relationships – at my next 3-day intensive weekend workshop in Stockbridge, MA this October 13-15.

You’ll learn the tools of inquiry, body-sensing, meditation and the Eating Guidelines that are the basis of the journey itself. Rather than getting rid of your conflicted relationship with food, you will become aware of what’s standing in your way. You will learn to welcome what is already here, contact the part of yourself that is fresh and alive, and live the life you truly want.


6 responses to “The Extraordinary Ordinary

  1. My dad is buried at a cemetery in New York, and along side of the road, there is a quote it is “I never stood so high as to bend down and take
    the hand of a child” It reminds me to stop and appreciate the smiles you receive back from someone for just a simple hello.
    Have a great day
    I enjoy your online seminars.

  2. Truly this took my breath away! My life at times would always feel like “is this all there is” moments and I believed that there’s got to be something “more” I can do to achieve that great place that I must be missing. After reading Women Food and God and listening to the Online Retreat Courses I have finally put that feeling and belief away. This is right now on my couch, with my dog next to me and the luxury of looking out the window and my husband down in our room asleep IS the best moment right now. I am so thankful for this truth that you have shared. Thank you for your hard work Geneen!

  3. I came to this realization when I had my first child…all of the sudden I noticed small things gave me greatest pleasure: listening to him breathe while asleep on my chest, stroking his soft cheeks and seeing him smile; watching him take wonder in his toes and I could go on 🙂
    But I didn’t understand it until I went back to work and one of my client’s said that “being a mom had changed me” – when I asked him how he told me “you are starting to see the joy you bring here and take moments to appreciate it… instead of immediately looking to the next thing to make happen” my ah-ha moment.

  4. This is a very timely message for me. As I faced a dull morning of driving several hours for work, where I would ordinarily disconnect and let my mind wander, I suddenly became amazed by the touch of the breeze on my skin. It struck me that I would only be around to experience the touch of the breeze, the sound of insects in the trees, the changing colors of early fall for a finite time that could end without warning. I was so caught up in the wonder of it… grateful for the every day that I am often too busy to notice.

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