How do you know you’re living a mediocre life?
To be mediocre has nothing to do with anything material. It’s not about money earned, or how many German cars are parked in the driveway. The only reason I even associate the two here is that it’s so easy in our country to get caught up in the misconception that money earned = our value as a person.
The Merriam-Webster simple definition of mediocre is: not very good.
I love that. Give it to me straight.
The truth is I can feel when my life is heading down that mediocre path and it can strike even if I’ve earned what I consider to be a boat-load (maybe just a good dingy-full?) of cash that month. It has nothing to do with gross receipts.
So, what does it have to do with.
Seven years ago I started paying attention to that very question. I started to feel overwhelmed by the not very good life I was constructing all around me. I made some huge changes including leaving a twenty-year career and moving across country to New Mexico. Such freedom I felt. In fact, so much freedom I temporarily broke apart and went totally, deliriously and mind-blowingly mad. It was the best kind of madness, the kind delivered by universal forces so powerful the only objective was complete annihilation of that mediocre person I had become. Step one = give her a new mind. Step two = give her a new location.
I asked my husband if we could move to a blip on the map, a wilderness mountain town so remote, so small, so isolated, the rumor around this tiny frontier community was that we were a part of the witness protection program. It didn’t make sense otherwise. Nobody moves here, they said. Not by choice.
The first morning waking up in our new house my husband felt physically ill. “What in the hell did we do?” he groaned, holding his head in his hands. The incredible views of the mountains outside our bedroom windows offered him no solace. This is a man who grew up in Boston, then relocated with me to Minneapolis. This is a man who nearly had a full-blown panic attack when he first visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota because the millions of acres of raw wilderness made him feel claustrophobic in his isolation. He was used to being a human ant in a giant ant colony. What good was one ant in the middle of the forest? Open spaces did him in. And this is a man so trusting, he agreed to move to New Mexico without ever having stepped foot in the state. His first experience of the Land of Enchantment was driving a moving van across the state line.
That first morning in remote New Mexico, I felt his panic and I started to panic a little too. This wasn’t like dragging him to Minneapolis from New England. He loved that transition. But what had I asked of him this time? Would he adjust? So I made a decision. Our first morning there, we’d forget about unpacking or exploring around town. We’d toss the dogs in the car for a road-trip. Yes, we’d just driven two thousand miles in a rickety moving van, but this was an emergency. This was a job for oxytocin and dopamine. He wasn’t going to get either by schlepping boxes.
So we drove to Taos.
Two hours later we stopped the car and walked into a landscape so beautiful it was like something out of a painting, too breathtaking to seem real. I told him Georgia O’Keefe had lived here. She actually didn’t. She lived in Abiquiu, an hour and a half southwest of Taos, but I was exhausted and disoriented and I sense she totally forgave me.
As we stood in the desert, the October sunlight sparkled like diamonds off the sand. The earthy, savory smell of sage hung softly in the air, and total silence enveloped us. With the Sangre de Christos of the Rocky Mountains towering above us I wrapped my arms around my husband and told him this was our new life. Eyes closed, I stepped away from him and spun a slow 360 circle, taking it in with all of my senses. I told him, “No more mediocrity”. He couldn’t argue with this. He couldn’t panic in the face of this. He silently fell in love with this new life, instantaneously, just like I did.
I want to always remember that moment, because mediocrity can silently slip through any unlocked door. I want to always remember that I choose extraordinary, not mediocre. I want to remember that extraordinary can be found in any life, in any location, in any socioeconomic status. So, I wondered recently what the parameters are for a not very good life, a mediocre existence, and this is what I came up with…
1.) Not taking a risk. Ever. Extraordinary means taking a leap of faith every now and then. It means having the courage to believe in yourself, in your dream. It means taking the bold steps required to get to that next hand-hold, sometimes scrambling, panicking, struggling for what you want. Risk-taking in small doses has been found to be nearly universally beneficial to your psyche and health.
2.) Being too comfortable with comfort. The human spirit is not meant to stagnate in a never-ending reality of constant comfort. Constant comfort is a total fallacy; it doesn’t exist. It’s not supposed to exist. Growth requires a little discomfort. Strength requires a little discomfort. Exhilaration requires a little discomfort. To be effective in this life, discomfort has to be a key player. I’m not talking about becoming a Penitente and perfecting the art of self-flagellation or anything. I’m just saying sometimes the best places in life are the most difficult to get to.
3.) Forgetting what it means to push yourself. A little push every now and then is a wonderful thing. If you really want to accomplish something, but you’re afraid of the work or pain required to do so, what do you do? Do you shove it down, suppress your dream, maybe try to eat it away or drink it away, or just watch t.v. until the desire passes (even though after twenty years the desire ain’t going anywhere)? Do you make excuse on top of excuse after excuse? Or do you make a plan, take bite-sized action steps and work toward that accomplishment even if it takes you another twenty years?
4.) Losing sight of the bigger picture. Your role is enormous. Are you forgetting that? Is it all about you? Your little life? Are you forgetting what an incredible influence you have on the external world, how important you are to others, how your own unique gifts are so needed on this planet? Are you forgetting how powerful you are, how it is that your DNA holds the key, opens a door to something crucial, critical, to raising the consciousness of the entire human race? You are a part of something enormous. Can you remember?
5.) Not understanding that Joy is the greatest teacher. It’s the wisest guide, the most skillful director, the supreme guru. Human beings are creative. They build, construct, love, imagine, dream, brain-storm, and problem-solve. What is your joy asking you to build? How are you making this world a more beautiful, spiritually valuable place? What do you LOVE to do? Are you doing that? Even a little?
6.) Not knowing when to unplug. We are meant to enjoy down-time. Rat races make nobody happy, not even rats. Feeling like you can’t afford to take a break, having no time to meditate or pray, making no space for just sitting and taking in the sunset without being attached to checking the email or Facebook or what’s trending on Twitter… Consider for a moment that you yourself are an outlet and your electronics are actually plugged into you. Feel how their constant use drains you as an electrical being. Restore yourself. Make time for silence. Unplug. Make time for a few things that don’t require electricity. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it.
7.) Is nothing sacred? Human beings seem to be built for ceremony and ritual. It’s in our DNA. I’m not talking about religion or dogma. I’m talking about whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re creating an intention for your life. That may mean grounding yourself by feeling the soft earth under your bare feet. Or it may mean clearing the chaotic energy of the day by burning incense or making a singing bowl hum. It might mean leaving an offering of sacred tobacco in the forest, or lighting a candle on your altar. Anything to ignite that little flame in your heart, to connect you to that unknowable something that requires no name or face. Rituals soothe us.
And because I believe in the affirmative, I’ll close with:
Take that risk, darling.
Embrace a little discomfort.
Lovingly give yourself a nudge.
See the bigger picture of your life.
Know that Joy is your greatest teacher.
Find & cherish your sacred.
Much love in this, your extraordinary life.