I’d like to pay tribute to the absolute pleasures of the ordinary – in fact I think it deserves to be capitalised. The Ordinary stands for something very special. It’s our ‘daily bread’, the epiousios, the around and about us things that turn life from drudgery to joy.

Madame and I never had any money, never owned any property and, for the majority of our working lives have never done anything glamorous, well paid, or even full-time. Even the Potwell Inn is borrowed from a book!  We’ve been supported by many kind and generous people who loaned us cars and cottages so that we could have holidays we could never otherwise have afforded. There are days like today when I feel we’ve lived richer lives than we could ever dream of when we were young. I’m not sure I could explain the visceral pleasure of spooning out home-made piccalilli, or seeing the table set for breakfast with three sorts of jam and marmalade, all tasting much better than the stuff you can buy, and all costing a fraction of the price. For goodness sake, it’s even enjoyable making it!

But I need to explain the capitalisation of the word ‘Ordinary’ because in this case I want to preserve a number of meanings in one term. The first two meanings come from the Christian church. The Ordinary, normally the bishop, is the person of ultimate authority in the diocese. It carries the sense that the ‘ordinary doesn’t just happen, it has to be nurtured.

Then there’s the sense of ‘ordinary time’ which, in the church calendar, means all the weeks that aren’t parts of special seasons like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Although it looks as if those seasons cover the bulk of the year, they only include about half the Sundays, from memory, so ordinary time doesn’t mean ordinary in the sense of ‘not worth bothering about’, but the bits of the year that are under the control of the Ordinary. What this complex idea offers is the sense that the administration of day-to-day, moment-to-moment ordinary life commands attention and respect.

A second layer of meaning comes from Ordinary Mind Zen Buddhism and the words that follow were spoken by Dizang:

You come here and use words like ‘tranquillity,’ ‘reality,’ ‘perfection,’ or ‘constancy.’ Worthy practitioners! What is this that you call ‘tranquil’ or ‘real?’ What is it that’s ‘perfect’ or ‘constant?’… Sounds and forms assault us every moment. Do you directly face them or not? If you face them directly then your diamond-solid concept of self will melt away. How can this be? Because these sounds penetrate your ears and these forms pierce your eyes, you are overwhelmed by conditions. You are killed by delusion. There’s not enough room inside of you for all of these sounds and forms.
‘Perfection.’ ‘Constancy.’ ‘Tranquillity.’ ‘Reality.’ Who talks like this? Normal people in the village don’t talk like this. It’s just some old sages that talk this way and a few of their wicked disciples that spread it around!

The words are quoted by Andy Ferguson in a webpage called tricycle.org, and he says this :

The “sublime gate” of signlessness is not at all empty of meaning. Traditionally, taking Zen’s signless path leads first to perceiving, then seeing through, reincarnation, the “wheel of birth and death.” What is quite profound is then inextricable from what is entirely ordinary. It is passages about the “ordinary,” where the difference between sacred and mundane is forgotten, that Zen literature takes on its peculiar flavor.

So Ordinary Mind is far from ordinary. Sacred and mundane are inextricable from one another. Stamp and circumponce are not needed,  although the capitals are needed to remind us to slow down and pay attention.

A third thread is simply that ordinary is good. We’ve become so addicted to the exceptional, the sensational, the ‘out of the ordinary’, that we’ve lost the real treasure that lies everywhere at hand. I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s lovely book on weeds which perfectly expresses the wonder of the riches we disdain to pay attention to. We’ve become spiritually and emotionally stunted, blundering around the word easing our pain with synthetic and powerful experiences of which we have no ownership.

Ordinary is another way of expressing the much misunderstood  virtue of humility. As William Blake expressed it – “the world in a grain of sand”.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

I could as easily cite John Clare and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

So there it is. The Ordinary is a spiritual concept, expressed – in this case – by a few bottles of home made elderflower cordial that we bottled one morning, and some bread baked overnight. After a long day on the allotment, when we leave in the evening and turn back to look at it we’re filled with joy and amazement, and often overwhelmed by that sense of grace that flows from the Ordinary.


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: