Everything had become nothing and nothing is everything. This is the statement that came over me while traveling in Norway last autumn. A deep sense that all I was seeing had such deep meaning but was also a bit hackneyed. And yet I have always appreciated the sacred in the mundane. The practice of washing dishes to quiet the mind, a walk at dusk to appreciate the change over from day to night; I believe these simple acts can change perspective. Because so often they change mine.
Norway was mind blowing to me. My girlfriend and I spent days driving through the fjord lands. As each hairpin turn swiveled round we found ourselves eyeing navy blue seas, gray cliffs, moss and craggy rock outcroppings, and finally came upon a famous stave church. Medieval and magical, sadly with a locked door, I stood in the bitter Norwegian wind and admired this landmark. Tucked in a tiny valley, the place of worship and comfort for so many this building had stood for centuries bringing the sacred to the hard working people of this little village. My admiration came to a close when we realized there was no restroom. My girlfriend adopted the stance, I call, the hard lean, which means I need to find a bit of nature or a bathroom pronto. So off we wandered up the street to the local grocery store. Still a bit lost in my reverie, we walked through the automatic doors into the fluorescent lighting and bored faces of local life. After we used the facilities, bought something to eat for dinner, and were walking back to the car we turned to each other with astonishment. Do you think they know they live in such a gorgeous place? We talked and agreed, it’s someone’s every day. It’s often how I feel working in Santa Fe in the summer; I’m not on vacation. Some days your world is beautiful shining so brightly there is nothing to distract your attention away, and other days, the car needs an oil change, your father’s dementia is worsening, it’s snowing in April, and your kid needs help with homework you barely understand.
My girlfriend and I put up a lot of happy pictures on social media but our trip was also full of hard moments and tough talks. Our perspectives were constantly shifting. One moment beautiful the next not so much. I learned more than ever that the sacred is in every moment of the mundane. I could change my perspective, take a deep breath, practice patience, and loving – kindness. But I also realized it is a practice and sometimes I cheated. I was quick to anger and held onto frustration. And my girlfriend cried and then we tried again. Life is mostly about trying again. Everyday there is the intention to wake up and move it forward, to write something worthwhile, to run an extra mile, to excel at work, to fall in love, to be the open hearted person we know ourselves to be.
Throughout my travels I read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Here is a man who has put his struggles down in deep detail and beautiful prose. For some, their own struggles are enough, but for me there is always admiration for those who put it down on paper. The thing I appreciate about struggling and suffering is it’s unique and universal qualities. Everyone has their own story but we all relate to the feeling. While I don’t always relate to Karl I deeply appreciate his fearlessness, and the moment when the struggle becomes the work.
“He raised his coffee cup to his lips and took a sip. I didn’t know what to say. What he said was not prompted by the situation, except that I had just arrived from Norway, and it was formulated in such a way, came in a coherent flow, that it seemed prepared. . . Whether his assertions were right or not I didn’t know, my intuition was they were driven by frustration, and he was actually expressing what was causing the frustration. It might have been Sweden. It might have been something in him. It didn’t matter to me, he could talk about what he wanted, that wasn’t why I was sitting here.”