Life: So Mundane – So Elegant

Mundane Photograph


I have a confession to make. I often feel like I am cheating when I use photos at the top of the poems and articles I post on Spirited-Thinking. I’m no expert at photography, but I use them anyway, mainly so that people will click them on Facebook or Twitter and go to my web site. I want people to read what I write!

So I usually look for a suitable photograph on the internet. Actually, it can be fun. I look for a colorful picture that matches my theme and then tweak it for posting on social media.

Or sometimes, I try to act like a real photographer and take a picture myself. I try to frame the contents with no undesirable objects blocking the view of the appealing parts of the photographs—no telephone wires, no beat up cars, no broken sidewalks.

But I see plenty of irony in my efforts to find attractive images. A favorite theme for me to write about is the complexity and beauty that we find in the ordinary. I believe a regular, not so eventful day can be joy-filled if we are really open and attentive to the simple details of life—like the coffee mug on your desk with a few favorite words on it; or the old laptop computer you still use— so miraculous compared to anything available ten years ago; even the dull gray sky overhead—behind which the whole universe hides.

Usually we aren’t in the mood for that. We say to ourselves, “I wish I could look out and see the green of spring instead of dirty snow.” “I wish there was something better to watch on TV.” “I wish the sun was shining.”

But I believe that when we step away from our neediness—when we are truly awake—we can see all those “dull” things for what they really are—integral strands in the great flow of life—each playing its own part in its own time.

So for this little article, I didn’t start out with a pleasant open source photograph that I found on the internet. I took a picture of what I see on a gray winter day right out my front window. There is the bare limbed locust tree. There is the dull, dormant grass of our front yard, and the cheap four door sedan in front of the neighbors house. And there are the homely tar strips that are meant to seal the cracks in our street, . If you look toward the sky, you see electrical wires and a transformer topped electrical pole—the kind of things we try so hard to keep out of our photographs.

We sometimes us the word “mundane” to describe the uninteresting things of life—the kind of things we try to keep out of photographs. But a look at the word’s original meaning shows us two contrasting way to view the “dull” parts of life.

We get our more common understanding of “mundane” from the Latin “mundus,” meaning “world.” What is mundane is of the world, ordinary or commonplace. And the French word “mondain” suggested worldly in contrast to heavenly—lower, not higher.

That is one way to use “mundane.”

But the original Latin word “mundus” meant clean or elegant. Not only that, it was often used as a translation of the Greek “cosmos,” meaning universe or orderly arrangement.

The message of the photograph above is that we can look at anything, even the seemingly unappealing, with fresh eyes—if only we drop our expectations and let our inner knowledge touch what we see. That homely transformer is a magical instrument for changing efficient but dangerous high voltage current to current usable by the dozens of clever devices in my house. That old car is the means by which my low wage neighbor—and mother—can go to work or shop for groceries. That unattractive grass covers a million little creatures that will come to life with the warmth of spring and provide nutrition to the grass and to the locust tree.

There is nothing wrong with appreciating lovely images, and I will still try to put them at the top of my blog posts. But I will also try to keep in mind the intricate beauty in life that doesn’t directly appeal to our eyes—and I will try to find words for that beauty.

The next time the details of life don’t seem to fit your lovely wishes, perhaps you can tell yourself, “Life is not dull—it is mundane.” And your inner eye will see what is really there—the elegant parts of an orderly, interconnected cosmos.

If you like this article, have a look at:
Sole Genealogy,” a poem
Inside Beauty,” a short article
Can We Still Find the Sacred?” an article

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