Journal Entry: Douglas Jason Way-04/02/2024-THE MIRACLE OF THE MUNDANE

Journal Entry

Like everything in life, prison is what you make of it. From one perspective, there is a sameness to the days. Those who choose to focus on limitations and the apparent lack of activity options allow the lifeforce to be sapped from them. They spend most of their time staring blankly at the TV, sleeping, or complaining about how bored they are. From another perspective, although the limitations in prison are real, there are no prohibitions against developing a positive and productive routine. There are other guys, and I count myself among this group, who approach each day with purpose and intention. We find that even the mundane, when given full attention, can serve as a gateway to the miraculous.

In my early adulthood, I fancied myself a man of big ideas and broad strokes. The details and day-to-day discipline were not of much interest. I wanted to step onto the field without meaningful practice or preparation and make the game-winning play. Of course, my delusions of grandeur did not match my reality, but the fiction was pleasant.

As I matured and evolved, often through painful, ego-deflating experience, I came to understand the value of the little things in life. Attending to the everyday intentionally builds character. I also learned that big breakthroughs are born of small increments of practice and preparation. This is the gospel according to books like Atomic Habits, Peak, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as my spiritual tradition of recovery, and I am an enthusiastic convert. An aggregation of little things does lead to those big things my younger self had craved.

I brought this mentality to prison, along with a commitment to use my time to get stronger in body, mind, and spirit, and it has served me well. In To Life! Rabbi Harold Kushner uses an analogy of athletics to describe why Jews follow the law and attend to the everyday without feeling like it is a limitation. He explains that athletes discipline their bodies through exercise and diet. These daily choices and exertions may seem like constraints in the short-term, but they ultimately allow athletes to have the freedom to do things with their bodies that the average person cannot. The limits, therefore, exist only for those who cling to the delusion that great gains can be achieved without sacrifice.

The big thing that I am working toward is being entirely ready to kick ass in all facets of my life when I get home. As I live each moment with discipline, I can feel that readiness growing. I have also discovered through this prison experience that I have only scratched the surface of what is possible by attending faithfully to the so-called little things.

Rabbi Kushner goes on to write in To Life!, “[Judaism] comes to teach you to transform pleasure into joy and celebration, how to feel like an extension of God by doing what God does, taking the ordinary and making it holy.” What I infer from this is that although the little things are the means to the end of achieving big things like success and freedom, those same little things are also ends in themselves, if we bring ourselves fully into each of them.

This is a tremendously powerful insight. It means that there are no throwaway moments in life. Every thought, word, and deed matters. As I write the words “everything matters,” I feel their weight, but I also feel their profound potential. Every moment of my life makes a difference, every moment of my life literally changes the world.

Coming to see that the little things are the big things creates a shift in my consciousness. I can perceive the miracles in the mundane, and my life takes on a different quality of greater vibrancy and fullness, regardless of where I happen to be living. Because I am changed, everything is changed, and I can find miracles everywhere I look.

I can brush my teeth, look in the mirror, and find myself in awe of the sheer wonder that I exist in that moment. That I am alive and healthy, that my bones and muscles are moved effortlessly by my brain to hold the toothbrush that someone invented and that was manufactured by people with machines in a building I know not where, to preserve the teeth that I am grateful to have and remove bits of food I am grateful to eat that was produced by other people around the country and world. On and on it goes, interconnected, miracles never ceasing.

In these moments, the veil between the material and the divine becomes wonderfully thin, and I am grateful for the glimpses I receive. But my feet are still on the ground and I have a positive and productive to do list to attend to. As the Buddhists say, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” The younger me might have responded with disappointment to the news that breakthroughs are not like winning the Super Bowl. Younger me couldn’t understand that when you bring yourself fully to the little things and allow the experience to change your state of being, the benefits make the Super Bowl seem trivial in comparison.

I don’t claim enlightenment, but I do claim progress. I am living the guidance of my spiritual tradition to “practice these principles [of daily discipline, personal growth, love, and service] in all our affairs.” I am changed and this new version of me is able to sanctify the everyday.

On a recent visit, I was discussing prayer and meditation with my friends John and Brian. John reminded me of his basic prayer, that I will paraphrase as, “God, for all that you have given, thanks. For all that’s to come, yes.” This is a prayer of gratitude and acceptance. It is not about complacency, but rather the most engaged kind of living. This is a prayer offered by people who understand that everything matters, even and especially the little things. That every moment of every day, even in prison, is worthy of our utmost attention and best effort. Miracles are to be manifested through the mundane in answer to this prayer.