The Extraordinary Intruding on the Ordinary

The only thing differentiating the extraordinary from the ordinary is frequency, quantity and volume. If you were a Sherpa climbing Mt. Everest every day, helping tourists get their one minute at the pinnacle. What would the value of summiting Everest be to you?

I remember reading Bernard Moitessier’s “The Long Way”, where he describes being in a Round the World Race for single handed yachts. This was a man who was leading the race, had all the difficult sections behind him, and instead of coming back through the Atlantic Ocean to Europe to claim his prize, he kept circling the globe in his vessel.

What kind of person decides to enter a race to sail a yacht, by themselves, around the world to show that it can be done? What kind of person, in the middle of this race, decides that the race is less important than the journey of the race, and then continues on for the experience and abandons the race?

It’s an extraordinary moment. But, in that moment, he was living in the ordinary, the repetitive existence of sailing in the open sea. The extrapordinary intruding on the ordinary, and vice versa.

Reflect on this long enough, and the inevitable conclusion, at least it seems to me, is that there is no difference. That extraordinary moments are no different from ordinary ones, the difference is the story that we end up telling to ourselves.

Ultimately, we can decide which story to tell. If you want your life to be extraordinary, then change your story to an extraordinary one. Everyone wants to believe that they are unique. That they matter. And they only have to decide which story to tell that highlights that narrative.

But, perhaps, therein lies an extraordinary opportunity. To identify with the ordinary, to continue on as not the first person to accomplish some feat, but in the commonplace repetition that makes up the bulk of our lives and that truly defines our experience.

Is being an astronaut more extraordinary than being a sailor of the high seas? The answer depends on the perspective of the person judging, usually from within the context of the historical moment. Two hundred years from now, assuming humanity doesn’t destroy itself in the interim, there will be far fewer sailors than astronauts. And, the opposite, two hundred years ago, the idea of an astronaut was largely unthinkable. Does this shift change the experience? Is one truly less or more extraordinary than the other?

3 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Intruding on the Ordinary

  1. I enjoy reading your thoughts on different subjects. Today I was in a zoom workshop and we were discussing ego and soul, I think on some level your two examples the Sherpa and the round the world sailor both exemplify our discussion. Let me think on it and see if I can come up with how it pertains, or not…..

    1. I guess it depends on your tradition. When I think of soul, I parse it more as the Quaker “Light Within”, the Hindu atman or Moner Manush (the latter I translate as the man of heart and mind) or the Rastafarian I and I. There’s this sense that we are connected to a larger spirit, a God, if you will, and there’s a tension between or ego and this larger spirit. Perhaps we are all avatars of God, but the more we focus on this particular incarnation, the further we are from God, and vice versa. Or, as the Matthew 16:25 puts it: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

      1. I totally agree with all you have written above.the facilitator of the workshop i am taking is an Anglican priest but now has no church and this workshop is under the umbrella of Courage and Renewal a Quaker based program started by Parker Palmer. So your examples of the sailor who never finished the race and the Sherpa guiding others to the summit……I read your post shortly after our Ego/soul discussion.
        Perhaps somewhere out in the vast ocean the sailor “lost his life to find it”
        He became one with the ‘larger spirit’ and winning a race became the least important thing going forward…..and the Sherpa, somewhere on the many ascents and descents he/she? connected to that realization of oneness. I imagine many ascents to the highest point on the planet would allow you to access a reality that few could ever experience, no matter or perhaps because of the goals of your human companions.
        I can’t quote it perfectly but in my last blog “swimming in clues” I quoted Kabir, he is saying what Mathew states above and I think as you point out what most faith traditions say ultimately….Right now I am on a remote island, just came in from photographing the sunrise, I feel as close to Nature as I ever have and the oneness that brings, another lockdown looming and I will have to return to my other reality hopefully feeling more like the Sherpa and the Sailor than my old self. Thank you for the response.

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