If you ever start reading articles or watching videos about extraordinary people, it often seems that the individuals in them fall into one of a few categories. Sometimes it is the case that they have survived some death-defying, eye-opening ordeal. Other times they have either had an unusually magical upbringing or an extremely difficult one, which has shaped them into someone with amazing gifts to share with the world: art, selflessness, courage, etc. However, the truth is that not everyone's parents were shamanic healers or diplomats; not everyone traveled the world as a child, collecting stories, seeing different realities. Not everyone broke through the shackles of abuse, poverty, or discrimination to emerge on the other side wise, kind, and with an inner drive striving towards positive change. Some people were born and raised in rather mundane environments; some people did not break free of those shackles of their childhoods and emerged scarred, scared, withdrawn, isolated. So are these people also extraordinary?
I am a child of immigrants and my parents were extremely brave, as are all immigrants, for picking up their lives and transplanting them into unknown soils. But my country, Canada, is buzzing with immigrant families... it's easy to get lost in the crowd. During my childhood I was relatively content and I grew up never wanting for anything I actually needed. It would be easy to say that I am not so special. But... there has always been a little voice inside me telling me that there is something alight within. Interestingly, this voice is much stronger when I am in a natural setting like a forest or a meadow or in the mountains, or even in a park looking up at the big trees swaying gently in the wind. Something inside tells me that I am a part of something bigger - not in size necessarily but in scope, depth and dimension - but that I am uniquely me at the same time. It doesn't matter what is happening in my life, if I am sick, healthy, sad, happy, at home, traveling, I always feel that little voice there. Of course it is my choice to pay attention to it or to disregard it, and a few times - I have to admit - I have disregarded it and forgotten about it. But then something always comes along and reminds me of it and I am so glad for that. Maybe it's because I wrote it down. As a teenager, I wrote in my journal: future me, never forget that voice you have inside you, if you start to forget, come back to this page, and I think that writing it down actually cemented it in my mind even more strongly so when I take my mind into my past I always bump up against that memory... never forget.
So am I extraordinary? Of course I am; life itself is extraordinary and the fact that there are so many millions and billions of individual expressions of it on the Earth is even more so. That's why the voice is stronger when I am in nature, because then I hear the other voices of other expressions of life unclouded by modern day superficial worries and artificial values; by the buzzing and clicking of incessant technologies whose voices we have become much more attuned to than our own inner voices. When I quiet my mind (which doesn't always happen on the first try), I just know that there is a language there. For lack of a proper (de)education I cannot really understand it, but I do not question that it is there. Maybe that's why when I am alone in an apartment I feel lonely, but when I am alone in the woods I feel at peace, surrounded by voices.
I think we really need to work through this feeling of I am nothing special. It can be so stifling to compare ourselves to others and their achievements and stories. I feel like this from time to time of course, but then I always try to come back to myself. My point here is that I believe that feelings of insignificance are fully a product of the modern industrial media age. It is so easy to think that in order to feel significant we have to compete with close to 7 billion others like us, with ever-smarter technology, with ever-shinier and ever-shifting images, icons and styles. I say, this is an illusion and simply not the case.
A few years ago, I slowly became acquainted with an approach to systems design called Permaculture. Permaculture literature teaches us that when an element is placed in a system correctly, its gifts get released and it is able to bestow them on the rest of the system, while at the same time benefitting from the other elements that are present. So I believe, it is like this with people too; it is not that some of us are extraordinary and others aren't just because we have been brought up a certain way or have experienced life in a certain way - there are plenty of people who have realized and unleashed their gifts later in life or simply not as a result of a media-worthy upbringing or experience. For me, it's all about finding a nurturing system in which to place yourself. This might start with taking walks in a forest ecosystem or in any green space, where the excessive stimuli of the city are not present, which allows one to become conscious of the voices of the spirit and the mind. For me, these kinds of activities led me to realize what kind of a physical and social system I wished to be a part of; it led me to reflect on what kind of social interactions I wanted to have and where/how I could have them. I realized what I wanted to see out the window when I woke up in the morning, and what I wanted to spend my days doing. I reflected on my gifts and what kind of system would allow me to share them.
Luckily, many others have gone through this process of self-realization already and are inspirations to the rest. I recently watched a TED talk video - which was unlike many I've watched of late - by Jon Jundai, the founder of the Pun Pun Centre For Self Reliance in Thailand. He proved that it was not even necessary to physically go into a nurturing system to awaken his inner voice. After moving from his country house to the city, he simply remembered the system he had previously lived in and mistakenly undervalued, he then realized how happy he had been there and what he could do to make it function even more abundantly, so that's exactly what he did. Instead of working over 8 hours a day, eating poor quality food in a setting that made him feel repeatedly inadequate, he moved and took all the steps needed to build his own house, grow his own food, and get the rest of his needs met by the community of people around him - the extraordinary part was how simple and easy it all was once he realized that is was possible. He never mentioned any extraordinary upbringing or death-defying ordeal, in fact, what was eye opening for him was simply inner reflection. That was all it took to lead him to become part of a system that now allows him to share his extraordinary gifts of teaching people how to live self-sufficiently and in touch with the natural world (the video can be watched here).
Individuals like Jon Jundai show that people are capable of being extraordinary if they are able to connect to their inner drive and ask themselves honestly and without self-judgement what they really want their life to be, then realize that this way of being is possible as long as we can somehow be part of a nurturing and sustainable (social, economic, and ecological) system. This step might be counterintuitive, it might require a great deal of creativity and thinking out of the box, not to mention stripping down our lives to what is essential and truly meaningful for us, then going forward from there. It's funny, if everyone was able to live in a way that soothed their soul and gave gifts of abundance to others and the planet, we would all just be extraordinary in our ordinariness.