Last weekend, our furnace quit.
That meant no heat and no hot water. We warmed the house by turning on our stove’s gas burners. My husband chivalrously carted buckets of hot water from the kitchen to the bathroom so that I could take a bath (sacred evening ritual) pioneer style.
After the furnace was repaired, I had several moments of reverence for the miracle of hot running water.
Last winter, we lost power during a winter storm (not unusual on our island). After a couple of days, the delight in dinner by candlelight and experiencing a computer-free existence faded, and I was tired of looking for clothes in a dark closet.
When the power came back on, I flipped on the closet light with amazement.
Years ago (many), while a college student, I traveled to Turkey on the cheap and encountered overflowing stand-up toilets in a hostel in Istanbul.
When I returned to the States, I had epiphanies of appreciation feeling the soft toilet paper in a clean bathroom.
Each of these times I felt, for a moment, the magic of the ordinary.
Sadly, in all cases, my reverence faded away with time, and I returned to taking much of life for granted.
How can we wake to the magic of ordinary life without enduring blackouts or filthy toilets?
The magic in ordinary life
I’ve read that what people miss most when they are forced to leave their homes or know they are dying is not the lost opportunity to visit Timbuktu or climb Kilimanjaro, but the simple stuff: Adam’s peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, the smell of fresh ground coffee every morning, the purple and yellow blooms on a winter pansy.
My friend Merna teaches immigrant and refugee teenagers to write poetry; the results are heart-rending. The kids describe what they miss from their homelands: onions cooking on the stove, tortillas on the grill, honking bicycles and jitneys, the morning smell of jasmine, a grandmother’s touch. Daily life. Ordinary stuff.
These days what I would sorely miss are my husband’s hugs, horse’s kisses, and movie night with the dogs, when we all crawl onto the bed to watch “The Queen” on Netflix. (The dogs are crazy for the Queen’s corgis.)
How can we wrest ourselves from the unconscious sense of entitlement that lets us take so much for granted?
If we could see how much is there for us on an ordinary day, we’d soak in abundance and delight in wonder.
Welcoming more enchantment
Enchantment invites the imagination to be a part of our everyday, grounded, worldly life. No need to leave science and common sense behind when we allow curiosity and surprise to accompany us through our days. (How many great scientists were enchanted by their fields and used imagination to interpret their data?)
Here are some ways to try:
Do without something for a while. You may be able to interrupt the trance of taking things for granted.
Stop and observe. Notice the world before you. If you were painting, what would you see? If you were conducting, what would you hear? If you had to leave, what would you miss?
Imagine that stones carry stories and trees, history. What might they tell you if you were willing to listen with curious ears?
Wander differently. You don’t need to visit another country. Take a spin around your backyard, neighborhood, or city, and deviate from your usual path. Walk backward for a bit. Close your eyes, and listen to sounds. Try navigating without sight. Vary your routine and see what you discover.
Indulge your senses. Eat your food super-sloowly and track the sensations that come with eating an everyday fruit, like an orange. Imagine what it was like for the first Northern European to take a bite. Using your imagination and all your senses, you may taste the hot sun and dusty paths where that orange was born.
Talk to the things that surround you. Not everyone wants to be Dr. Doolittle, but I regularly converse with my horses and say hello to my trees (especially Harriet, my copper beech). Do they understand? Don’t know–but it puts ME into more relationship with them.
Be grateful for the small stuff and the people around you. In amplifying my appreciation, I feel more connected to the world, and crack the door open for new enchantment to enter.
While we may think “enchantment” means spells, the real spell we’re under (or I am) is sleepwalking through life, taking the ordinary for granted, ignoring the opportunities for wonder that are right in front of us.
Brewing a batch of enchantment requires doses of gratitude, sensory awareness, being very present, wonder, and imagination.
With a bit of luck, you might encounter magic.