what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]

Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

16 thoughts on “what is ordinary

  1. Loved this line, Tiramit, “What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’.” When we pay attention, ordinary is the fiction, the rare thing that doesn’t exist, for each so-called “thing” is a gateway to everything else. Really enjoyed your reflection here. Makes me think that what we call ordinary awareness is a habitual one. A dull and lackluster assumption about being. In the confines of ordinary, we become isolated, alone, uncertain… Ordinary…


    • Thanks Michael,
      The English word ‘ordinary’ masks the truth of our surroundings, our connection with the World. I’ve been sifting through some earlier posts to find the thing about ‘dharma’ having a meaning that includes everything, the divine quality of the sky, the air, rivers, mountains, small objects, and every single thing.
      The Thais have it, when they say look, there has to be a profound understanding of ordinariness… but there’s nothing impossibly difficult about this. The word in Thai is: dhammada – it functions as an ancient (Buddhist) Pali word, meaning the dharma of everything. In everyday usage it just means that; ordinary.
      In the West, we seem to be so far away from understanding ‘ordinary’. It could seem like something extraordinarily complex, something we’d have to struggle to understand.
      Good to hear from you again!

  2. Lovely, for indeed what is ordinary shifts and changes with what may be ordinary one moment and quite not that, another time. Is it ordinary to breathe? For most of us, as long as we are not experiencing any difficulty with it, be it in an illness or a flooding of emotion. Is it ordinary to eat breakfast? It is for those of us who have it, but not for those of us who cannot, for whatever reason. Ordinary, like pronouns and ordinal place or comparative adjectives, shift with time and place and viewpoint, which makes everything, in essence, potentially quite extraordinary!

    • Wonderful! Shall I call you ‘N’? Yes, this is it. The Whole Thing is kinda drifting around transforming itself and the tendency (of course) is to identify a part of it… to reach out and take something. Then it all stops and becomes a colorless cardboard substance of no interest except as a classification. Even though it just drifts around and includes the intrusion. Everything is as it is. I am interested in the thoughts surrounding your pronouns and ordinal place or comparative adjectives…

      • You can call me “N” or Na’ama or whatever feels best to you. It’s all good. 🙂 Glad you liked the reply, and yes, I think that like many words that are inherently subjective (and transient), the word “ordinary” is in of itself not something one can (or should?) tame.
        With regards to pronouns: The word “I” depends on who is talking, as will the word “you” or “He” or “She” or “They” or “We”–they are wholly depended on the context of the conversation. “I” becomes “you” if we’re having a conversation as soon as we trade places from speaker to listener … even though we are still the same two people. And if you told someone about me later on, I’ll become “she” and if someone spoke about the both of us it will be “they” or “them” … even though we are, still, the same people, but our role in the conversation, or the point of view, constantly shifts. So what is “I”? What is “he” or “you”? …
        Similarly, if you refer to items/people, you may refer to their ordinal order (first/second/third, etc), but that depends on what direction you start ‘counting’ from … and on your own view point in line … So “first” is only in relation to the context that defines what first IS … and everything then gets measured in reference to that, but can just as easily shift … Also, say you are in queue and you are ‘third’ in line, and then one of those before you ended their business and you are now ‘second’ … both are true and you are still yourself and yet something has shifted, or did it? And then you become ‘first’ and then when you are done, you might be none of those, or become last in line for the bus … 🙂

  3. This notion of “ordinary” seems to point to a desperate attempt to construct a commonly held reality within this illusion, a “norm” that ignores the fact that what we call reality actually a subjective experience. In the US, we think its “normal” to drink cow’s milk despite the fact that we’re the only mammal that drinks the milk of another species after we’re weaned… the only reason anything looks “ordinary” to us is because we’re not looking closely enough.

    • Hi Jeff
      Sorry for delay in reply. Yes the only reason anything looks ordinary is we’re not looking closely enough. TV and fast food dull the brain. All of it is intended to cushion the consumer from the sense of lack at the center of our being and facilitate the illusion the idea of a “norm”… I used to know someone at school named Norm (short for Norman), he was somebody who did everything right, kinda boring guy. “What we call reality is actually a subjective experience”, this says it all – the result of having 6 sensory functions. Thanks and good to hear from you again

  4. Beautiful piece and I love the drawing. Very Picassoesque! Enjoyed your memories. Thanks for taking us to the half dawn light with warm milk. Can almost taste it though I hate milk it sounds appealing somehow, warm from the cow. Although I can see being vegan and swearing off all cow products. Cows are horribly treated here.

    Ordinary and extraordinary. When examined doesn’t the ordinary become extraordinary? I think that is what Sadhguru says. And I love the Teilhard de Chardin quote. Thank you for perking up a discouraging day.

    • Hi Ellen
      About the drawing, I suppose you could say all my drawings are influenced by Picasso. His art had a huge impact on me, still does. Very differently sourced, his hot emotional Spain to my cold, winter and windy summer place in the huge North. The fresh-milk thing of my childhood in North of Scotland doesn’t extend into adulthood, for many years in Thailand I had soy milk instead of ‘real’ milk.
      Then I went to India and stayed for seven years (plus another three years from a former life 1982-1985), and the awareness of non-pasteurised, actual milk from the cow became a reality again. It’s an example of ‘ordinary becoming extraordinary’ and you’re right about that, every ‘ordinary’ object in the world has the potential to become extraordinary when there is an observer to become conscious of it – and now I’ve stumbled upon the ‘observer effect’ in quantum theory, unintended and quite extraordinary…

      • Oh, this sounds very familiar and utterly fascinating. The observer effect… I can’t access the example of it I read about or came across in Reiki training. I think it had to do with atoms acting differently when observed. And , yes, I see the profound influence of Picasso.

      • Thanks Ellen
        Yes it’s atoms acting differently when observed, I feel we’re on the brink of a rather large discussion so let’s not do that. In the meanwhile I’m busy resurrecting half-finished art works more than a decade old…

  5. Perhaps the name of the milk should be changed from “plain” to “ordinary”.
    There’s a subtle difference, of course.
    Ordinary seems good. O.K. Regular. As expected.
    Plain seems like something’s lacking.
    “Gosh, that tasted rather plain, don’t you think?”

    More musings,


    • Thanks Paz, for bringing to mind the difference between plain and ordinary. Interesting, also the fact that in Thailand the word ‘plain’ is something particular, it has a specific flavor, created by the taste specialists. Ordinary, on the other hand is just ordinary – but the Thais do have that understanding that ‘ordinary’ is ‘dammada’ the darma of everything…

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