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LATEST DIALOGUES The Sacred Ordinary


Where is our inner knowing leading us?  It seems to me that it is leading us home – to right here – in order, as the poet suggests, to know this “place” for the first time. This place, whatever is before you in this moment, may not appear to be anything special. In fact, it will almost always look very ordinary and familiar. It is the evolutionary job of the conditioned mind to make it seem this way, since it takes less energy to categorize our experience as “known” than to really see, feel and touch what is actually here. Thinking that we know something – transforming the mysterious into the ordinary – serves biological survival. But we are here for more than mere survival and we are not puppets of the conditioned mind.

Our body is a trustworthy conduit of inner knowing – far more than the conditioned mind that is so easily seduced by ideas. It is closer to the ground from which it springs and to the pulse of life. It has a remarkable capacity for felt sensing – the whole-body sense of things, the far reach of which includes our inner truth. As our body is freed from conditioned thoughts and reactive feelings, it becomes an increasingly fine-tuned instrument for being in touch with reality.

There are multiple somatic markers of inner knowing. In this book I have focused on the four most common that have emerged during tens of thousands of my client sessions over the past three decades. These four – a relaxed groundedness, inner alignment, open-heartedness and spaciousness – have appeared repeatedly as I have both guided and followed hundreds of my clients and students during their unfolding process of self-discovery. Dozens of interviews with friends, students, colleagues and former clients confirm these observations. So does my own experience.

As we tune into our deepest nature, our body relaxes, grounds, lines up, opens up and lights up. So far this extraordinarily useful feedback has been largely overlooked. Almost nothing has been written about it. We need to both sense and decode these subtle signals if we are to benefit from them. These bodily markers are here to be seen and used as guides to more gracefully navigate life and to awaken. They are part of our birthright, available to anyone.

Awakening does not end with the discovery of our true nature as open awareness. This is only the beginning of another process. Life is also inviting us to discover the true nature of our body and, by extension, the world. There is a natural movement of open, loving awareness to saturate the densest levels of form in order to meet and free the areas of greatest confusion and suffering. This movement is at the heart of the Boddhisattva vow to work for the enlightenment of all beings. It is also found in Christian teachings on the power of redemptive love and Jewish teachings of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Loving awareness will liberate everything that it touches, if we are honest and vulnerable enough to allow it. It fosters a great intimacy.

As the body awakens, so does the world. When we discover that the core of the body is made up of empty, vibrant, and wakeful openness, we experience the world differently. The world as other dissolves and becomes intimate. As a result, our ordinary experience is suffused with a sense of the sacred. We discover what I like to call the sacred ordinary. We feel grateful for no reason.

This is a quiet knowing, rather than an ecstatic display of fireworks. While there may be moments of bliss and dramatic revelation along the way, this knowing brings an inner contentment and peace. Nothing is extraordinary and yet everything is sacred.

The Twelfth century Chinese Buddhist master Kakuan created a series of pictures based on earlier Taoist teachings that he called the “Ten Bulls.” Later they came to be known as the “Ten Ox-Herding Pictures” in Zen. They describe typical steps in the discovery of our true nature – what it is to be truly human. The final picture is entitled “In the World” and depicts a little man returning to the marketplace after his long journey of searching for and taming the bull. The inscription reads:

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful. I use no magic to extend my life. Now, before me, the dead trees come alive.

excerpt from his latest book “In Touch

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7 Responses to “The Sacred Ordinary”

  1. March 11, 2015 at 7:53 pm, Lynne Michelson said:

    I am intrigued by John’s work with researching and describing 4 somatic markers for the “state” of inner knowing.

    • March 15, 2015 at 8:08 pm, John Prendergast said:

      Hi Lynn,

      These have been very intriguing for me as well – particularly how commonly they arise as people begin listening to their bodies and honing in on their truth. I go into detail about these markers in my book “In Touch” from which this article is taken.

      blessings, John

      • March 16, 2015 at 5:45 am, Lynne Michelson said:

        John, I look forward to reading your book In Touch. I like what you say in your article that you are grounding your work in research and interviews. Many of us have been doing deep practices for a long time, but the fact that you expand on the beautiful mystics’ attempts to explain inner experiences in this way is something i can share with people who are more inclined toward scientific and empirical data.. and it offers a bridge between our experiential right brain and the left brain’s ability to categorize and explain. Do you do presentations on this? I have a beautiful home that would be a potential place for you.
        I believe I met you at an event and sense we know many of the same people. Blessings back to you, Lynne

  2. March 12, 2015 at 7:19 pm, Lori DiGuardi said:

    Something I experience but have never labeled is “the sacred ordinary”. Your words, your writing, John, are filled with this sacred ordinary-ness, for so many of your words and phrases feel so full of an infinite indefinable truth. Thank you!

    • March 15, 2015 at 8:08 pm, John Prendergast said:

      You are very welcome, Lori. I am glad that these words resonate for you.

      blessings, John

  3. March 13, 2015 at 6:50 pm, Grace Hinrichs said:

    I am only puzzled about why you would say that nothing has been written about bodily awareness as a path to knowing our true nature and a sense of the sacred, since many meditation practices focus on that very thing. It’s sometimes called “one-pointedness,”which sounds very tiny indeed and ends up being huge of course!

    • March 15, 2015 at 8:03 pm, John Prendergast said:

      Hi Grace,

      Thanks for your comment. These paragraphs are excerpted from the conclusion of my new book “In Touch”. I am referring here to the specific somatic markers of relaxed groundedness, inner alignment, openheartedness, and spaciousness. You are of course quite right that the body in general is acknowledged in many contemplative traditions and practices as an authentic portal to self awareness.

      blessings, John

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