The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
~ Lao Tzu, The Tao de Ching

The word ordinary means: (Dictionary.com)

1. of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional.
2. plain or undistinguished: ordinary clothes.
3. somewhat inferior or below average; mediocre.
4. customary; usual; normal: We plan to do the ordinary things this weekend.

Synonyms include customary, mundane, established, everyday, familiar, frequent, general, habitual, humdrum, natural, normal, popular, prevailing, public, quotidian, routine, run of the mill, settled, standard, traditional, typical, usual (Thesaurus.com).

The common thread here is that what we see as ordinary is something familiar or routine; nothing special. The word has a somewhat derogatory connotation.

Something becomes ordinary or mundane when we stop paying attention.

What comes to mind when you think of the word ordinary or mundane? Although I think of fewer and fewer things in those terms, some that still come to mind for me are trash, driving, flat landscapes, brushing my teeth, keeping financial records, etc. etc.

The Office series finale was very poignant. During the entire series, a never seen film production company was doing a documentary of the office. At the very end, Pam says that you might wonder why anyone would do a documentary on a paper company. Yet, she points out,

There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?

There are lots of blogs and sites out there today that talk about finding the beauty in the ordinary and I agree that it’s there. Photographers talk about finding the interesting in ordinary places or making the ordinary extraordinary.

What if we stopped calling anything ordinary?

Mary Oliver’s instruction for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. (via Goodreads)

Ordinary is a concept that we create in our minds. With a simple reframe or a different view, we would see everything as it is – astonishing.

Through photography, I have been able to reframe many of my judgments about things considered ordinary, mundane, or even ugly. I see fewer and fewer things in those terms.

Here is an example of seeing with new eyes. This spring I was enthralled with the beauty at my feet as I walked the streets and saw fallen petals everywhere. Not something we ordinarily pay much attention to. Yet, to me, it created pieces of abstract art.


Let’s face it. Some things will be harder than others to look at in new ways. But, we can begin by paying more attention to those people or subjects or situations we call ordinary or mundane.

Be like water, as Lao Tzu says above. Water flows to the lowest of places that most reject. It gives life without seeking for itself.

How can you reframe what you see?

Related Reading

Urban Decay series – Part One (Rust), Part Two (Wabi-sabi & Wood), Part Three (Walls & Roads)
Photographer Captures the Beauty of Mundane McDonald’s Customers
How to See Beauty in the Mundane

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