More than ten years ago, I wrote a post on the secret of longevity. Titled, The Value of Nothing, it spoke about how a tree was spared chopping just because it was too big and that it had survived for so long due its uselessness to the world at large. No one wanted anything from it.

Of course, we don’t have to be useless to be left alone nor do we need to give up our dreams or desires for lasting peace. Having said that, there is one desire that deserves a special mention. If one could conquer just this one desire, they would experience a near constant flow of bliss. 

Before I share what that is, here’s a story from The Way of Chuang Zu by Thomas Merton. 

The Prince of Wu took a boat to Monkey Mountain. As soon as the monkey’s saw him they all fled in panic and hid in the treetops. One monkey, however, remained, completely unconcerned, swinging from branch to branch—an extraordinary display! 

The Prince shot an arrow at the monkey, but the monkey dexterously caught the arrow in mid-flight. At this the Prince ordered his attendants to make a concerted attack. In an instant the monkey was shot full of arrows and fell dead. 

Then the King turned to his companion Yen Pu’i: “You see what happened?” he said. “This animal advertised his cleverness. He trusted in his own skill. He thought no one could touch him. Remember that! Do not rely on distinction and talent when you deal with men!” 

When they returned home, Yen Pu’i became the disciple of a sage to get rid of everything that made him outstanding. He renounced every pleasure. He learned to hide every “distinction.” Soon no one in the Kingdom knew what to make of him. Thus they held him in awe.

In case you haven’t guessed already, I am talking about the desire to be noticed or admired by others, the itch that the world should know how special you are. Each one of us is unique and there is much we have to offer but yearning for fame and limelight can make the best of the best miserable.

Besides, let’s not forget that this world is truly a monkey mountain. Just how apes copy behavior, most of us are living others’ lives without ever pausing for a moment to reflect on what you really want from your life. One classic sign of living not our own but someone else’s life is that we are constantly seeking approval from them. We want a pat on the back, we want acknowledgement, worse, sometimes we want the world to say how amazing we are. 

No wonder, Kabir said, Maya taji toh kya taja, maan taja na jaye…big deal if you give up wealth, it’s the desire for fame, it’s ego, we can’t give up.

There’s something extraordinary about being ordinary. I don’t mean to say that we stop striving for excellence or that we forever hide our talents. But the moment you take control of your life and remind yourself that you are your own person and that it’s perfectly okay if the world doesn’t think the world of you, you will have infused yourself with great inner strength. You truly become extraordinary then.

Sometimes when I read Chinese literature on Tao or Confucianism, I find it incredible how China as a nation completely adopted the notion of being ordinary. Behind what appears to be a meteoric rise of China is a country that quietly worked for several decades (even before the market reforms of the 1970s). They hid all distinction and accomplishments behind a facade of ordinariness and then one day they unveiled the new China to the world, flexing its muscles. Too big, too mighty for any country to take head on. The unveiling was swift but the gradual build up was only possible in portraying an image of mediocrity. A very important lesson in leadership.

Whatever you possess, you have to choose between flaunting it (and therefore winning admirers) or enjoying your possessions. Both are not mutually exclusive but the moment you start brandishing, you’ll move away from your truth and inadvertently set yourself on a never ending quest, a lonely journey, where nothing quite feels enough.

Thomas Merton shares a beautiful Taoist poem, The Empty Boat, in the same book. As follows:

Who can free himself from achievement 
And from fame, descend and be lost 
Amid the masses of men? 

He will flow like Tao, unseen, 
He will go about like Life itself 
With no name and no home. 

Simple is he, without distinction. 
To all appearances he is a fool. 

His steps leave no trace. 
He has no power. 
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.

Since he judges no one 
No one judges him. 

Such is the perfect man: 
His boat is empty. 


If you draw too much attention to yourself, spiritually speaking, you are now defending the egos of multiple individuals, you are unwittingly entering into their karmic and energy fields. Unless you are an influencer or a politician that your livelihood depends on more and more people knowing and admiring you, you may want to take a moment and choose if others’ opinions really matter to you. 

It takes great spiritual and emotional maturity to not be bothered by what others think of you, but once you attain it, you are a transformed individual. At any rate, the more popular you are, the greater the chances of you becoming a tall poppy victim. That is, numerous people will resent you just because you are doing well. Although if that happens, remember you don’t have to pay attention to them. For, you will not be criticized, resented or attacked by those who are doing better than you. It’s always by those who are less successful and more insecure.

Mulla Nasrudin went to a psychiatrist and asked how to develop split personality disorder.

“Why on earth would you want that disorder?” said the doctor.
“Just tell me,” Mulla said, “can you or can you not split my personality.”
“This is absurd. Why would you want that?”
“Because,” Mulla said with dejection in his voice, “I’m so lonely.”

One of the greatest rewards of cloaking the extraordinary with the ordinary is that you never feel lonely. If anything, you feel this gentle flow of bliss and above all, you are more effective at anything you  undertake. For the simple reason that you are no longer doing what you love to impress but improve, not to win followers but win yourself. And that, my friend, is mighty powerful; the joy of being ordinary.




There were four members in a household. Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. A bill was overdue. Everybody thought Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.
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