I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in my mid-twenties, warring with a Masters thesis that hurtled barriers against my every attempt to get the thing done, spiraling into in an increasingly depressive state. I had become feverishly obsessed with my thesis topic on colour theory in cinema, which had me asking: why were black-and-white films so successful when we don’t see the “real” world as shades of grey, while colour films had a more shaky entrance into the world of film?
I devoured more books than one little thesis could hope to assimilate, and mostly avoided the phone (and often, the shower). I spent days on end doing things like rewinding The Wizard of Oz for the thousandth time (these were the days of VHS), pinning down to the second how much screen time was devoted to displaying the yellow brick road, compared to the movie’s sepia segments.
This was all fascinating stuff, but it began to overrun me. Studying had become a compulsion, propelling me toward some vague “something” that an unconscious part of me decided was worth the sacrifice. But my psyche wasn’t taking all that well to this martyrdom my mind was encouraging.
My journal from those days were filled, in turn, with wonder, bewilderment, self-loathing, existential and overwrought treatises on the meaningless of it all, and also, a “read-between-the-lines-esque” impression that I must be destined for absolute, unequivocal greatness, even though I was equally sure that I had never produced an idea of any value and likely never would.
It seems these often go hand in hand—low self-esteem with an overly grand, superhero sense of self, belittlement and aggrandizement; the feeling that one is at once smaller than a grain of sand on the shore and also larger than the vastest ocean.
Being less-than and more-than must fit so comfortably together because of what they have in common: they are both ultimately ego-driven, and miles away from our ideal destination of equilibrium, of being just who we are. It’s so hard to unveil our true nature, to accept the flawed, floundering, and also magical qualities of our unique being without taking them on a ride into extreme-land now and then.
But we have to start somewhere, if equilibrium is our goal. For me, it was a ton of bricks slamming into me—via my journal—one day. The realization seems silly to write down, but it was so profound to me that it almost knocked me off my well-used and under-tidied bed.
I’m just an ordinary person.
I am not less than a person, and there is absolutely no one asking or demanding that I be more than one. Ordinary is not bad. Ordinary is sublime, and the necessary starting point containing the vast sea of possibility that is us.
If we let it.
I scribbled furiously. I wondered how I arrived at the belief that my sense of worth needed to come from accomplishing some unforeseen act of spectacular genius, and that who I was today could be validated by some mysterious future action I couldn’t name for the life of me.
I wrote about how I was self-imposing so much pressure to distinguish myself that I actually forgot live my present truth, and what kind of future can come from a non-existent and saddened present? This was the future that was supposed to retroactively save me, even though it was as obtuse as life on Mars?
It had never occurred to me before that the only one creating this mass drama of my identity was me—another human on a planet brimming with them—and that I was not only enough, but perfect, and just as I was supposed to be.
Just like I felt everyone else was.
In allowing myself to be “just” a person, I could start to put my adopted (if accidental) persona of glamorous doom aside and do things people tend to do in the course of an ordinary day. I could shower, call my friends back, and read difficult books without having a heart episode every time a question was left unresolved. I could maybe enjoy a meal in a venue other than my bed.
Of course, none of this happened overnight.
In the end, I continued to struggle with the thesis as I landed my first post-school job, and then my boyfriend at the time and I moved to Bangkok for a year. It was only when I came back that I had enough distance to realize this one thesis didn’t have to change the world—and I got it done.
It was a longer road still until I found myself at another impasse that led me back East, now more sure than ever that I’d love for my chaotic mind to not dominate my life, the key to fulfillment lying in healing the wounds of the heart. The journey is a long and meandering one, to say the least!
Looking back, though, I’m sure that the seed for all that was to come was planted on that day—in that journal entry—as I wrote in amazement that my only real job was to fulfill my legacy of being human; to be the best possible and kindest person I could be, just like everyone else.
This will always be enough.
“Ordinary” is not a pejorative term; it never means that we are limiting ourselves. Rather, it entails coming to own our shared existence, and laying foundations for blooming into the expansive vistas of all we can be, in the light of what we are in connection.
- This article was originally published in The Tattooed Buddha.