This Fearless Life

At the beginning of each year I attempt to find a word or theme to guide me through the twelve months ahead. It makes sense to me to do this, not only because here in the Southern Hemisphere the school year mirrors the calendar year, but also because my birthday falls in January. I find it useful to embrace an overarching concept that often ends up informing what I do, what I read, what I think, and even the way I approach my life.

Last year, I took delight as my guiding principle after dipping into Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. Prior to that I (perhaps less successfully) delved into the lives of diverse people — Marcus Aurelius, Virginia Woolf, Keith Richards — to see how their perspectives might inform my own. Another year I chose a different Word of the Month to engage with.

In 2021, I’m taking myself going down a slightly different path again — one decidedly unfamiliar to me, raised as I was in a reasonably conservative Roman Catholic home by parents who remain steadfast in their faith and who chose to send me to Catholic schools throughout my primary and secondary education. This year, inspired by reading Jay Shetty’s book Think Like a Monk, I’ve chosen to explore the Divine Qualities outlined in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavad Gita.

There are 26 Divine Qualities listed in the Gita, so I am hoping to tackle one every couple of weeks. Quite obviously, I haven’t been raised Hindu and have little experience with the Vedic tradition other than what I’ve learned from various teachers when attending yoga classes from time to time, which means I am engaging with each quality as outsider. From the oustet I think it is important to state that I do not intend to bring a religious slant to any of my posts and I mean absolutely no disrespect to believers in this or in any religion: I am simply using the Divine Qualities mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita as a starting point and exploring how these, as I understand them, apply to my own life.

The first Divine Quality mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita is FEARLESSNESS.

What a way to kick things off, huh?!

You may, given the current state of the wider world, now have an inkling of understanding as to why I was intrigued by the Divine Qualities: given that much of 2020 involved a global pandemic, trade wars, continuing environmental crises and particular politicians peddling lies and failing to protect their own people, there were many things about last year that made me FEARFUL. I often wondered, in 2020, whether my family would stay physically safe in the face of an invisible disease and mentally strong when confronted with multiple lockdowns, whether my husband’s business and those of his clients would survive the associated economic upheaval, and whether the world was actually going to hell in a handbasket.

Fearlessness? I’ve never lived through a year more prone to making people fearful, or for provoking (at best) garden variety anxiety on a daily, if not hourly, basis!

Fearlessness…

I have to admit the word shocked me when I first read it, right at the top of the list of Divine Qualities. It felt like such a foreign concept in these strange and unusual times.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to embrace fearlessness.

Many of us spend far too much time worrying about — or even fearing — things beyond our control. What if we stopped fearing what other people might think of us, or whether we’re good enough, or if the timing is right? What if we started to trust ourselves and our abilities more, to do what is right and responsible, to make our best effort every time with the knowledge and resources we have?

For me, staring fearlessness in the face meant asking myself:

  • What if I actually finish my novel?
  • What if I allow myself time to exercise every day?
  • What if I publish more on this blog, even if it exposes me to potential ridicule?
  • What if I say no to stuff that no longer serves me?
  • What if I say yes to trying new things?

And I’ve decided, on balance, that all of those things are worth doing.

That it’s worth letting go of fear and trusting the universe (or God, or whatever you believe in) has my back.

That it’s important to have faith that the vast majority of people on this planet are doing their best and are kind and decent human beings.

That it’s time I lived with fearlessness!

The Delights of Spring

SPRING! The word itself is a delight, and I happen to think Southern Hemisphere Spring is particularly magical.

I haven’t written about my quest for the delightful since midwinter, and have been more preoccupied by the progress of the pandemic and by The Professor’s dementia that I would like to be, so the delights of spring have been a welcome and much needed distraction.

Springtime, here in old Sydneytown, begins at the same time as the final school term of the year and the onset of Eastern Daylight Saving Time. While seasonally spring may be about new beginnings, for Sydneysiders it signals the beginning of the year’s denouement, when we start enjoying warmer weather and longer, increasingly golden evenings.

The end of the year is in sight, and I suspect many of us are keen to see the back of 2020. What a year! Though, on reflection, I could never in my wildest imaginings have known what a strange and eventful year this would be to take note of the delightful I encounter in the everyday — if I only look for it and recognise it for what it is.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things I have found most delightful this Spring:

Spring Flowers and Fresh Herbs

For Christmas some years ago, The Bloke and the kids decided to present me with a raised garden bed. After it was assembled in the back yard, the following month they arranged a delivery for my birthday: several cubic metres of top quality soil. Not the sort of thing you can easily gift wrap, but greatly appreciated and loved ever since…until this year.

This year I had such great intentions, during lockdown in particular, of getting outside and fixing up the yard. My raised garden bed was looking decidedly bedraggled, particularly since a bunch of baby tomatoes (and other less desirable plant species) had decided to self-seed and subsequently launched a bid for world domination.

Humble new beginnings…it looks much better now…

Finally, a few weeks ago, I found a moment to show those baby tomatoes and assorted weeds who was boss. I removed the netting that had been possum-proofing the garden bed since forever, and I ripped everything out.

YASSSSS!

What a breathtakingly cathartic experience — and one I can highly recommend as a delight! But was what was even more delightful was replanting the raised bed with loads of spring flowers and verdant herbs, and watching each plant blossom and grow. I have relished being able to use herbs straight from the back yard when I cook, and have enjoyed the surprise of seeing colours emerge and change as different flowers bloom.

My Octopus Teacher

I think just about everyone I know who has seen this film has raved about it, but for me the true delight came in watching it with my children. The cinematography — particularly the underwater sequences — is utterly breathtaking, and they were both captivated.

Witnessing the bond between man and octopus was astonishing, especially since (as coastal dwellers) we’ve had to drum it into our kids never to touch any octopus they find in case it’s of the blue-ringed variety. The beautiful but highly poisonous Hapalochlaena is a regular visitor to tidal rockpools near our house, and a single blue-ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 people in minutes, so seeing a human interacting with an octopus in such a carefree manner was quite extraordinary — even if it did come with a deadly serious and timely “don’t try this near home” reminder for the kids.

What I found most delightful about the movie was that it immersed me in a world completely different from the one I inhabit, offering me a window into what it’s like to live below, rather than above, the ocean surface. Clearly Craig Foster has some crazy free diving skills — but it’s his talent with an underwater camera that filled me with wonder and awe.

Free Books

Now this is a delight I would welcome at ANY time, but was one I was extra grateful to receive just before the school holidays. A while back I received an email from a large book retailer, offering me advance copies of a couple of new books. I clicked on the link, not thinking I’d end up with anything in return, and was utterly amazed when a package turned up on my doorstep a couple of weeks later with proof copies of two novels for me to read. Needless to say I’ve already devoured them both, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of those email gems hitting my inbox!

The Light

There is something about the quality of the light at this time of year that makes my soul sing. I think I summed it up best when I wrote this post five years ago…though reading all my references to Jazz Festivals and NRL Grand Finals makes me realise just how precious delights are in these crazy times.

So that’s it for now folks — just a few of the gems I’ve noticed as Sydneytown greets the Spring. I’d love to hear what is delightful in your part of the world at this time of year…

À bientôt, BJx

Delights Universally Acknowledged

delight 6It’s been a while since I put fingers to keys, and I’m a little overwhelmed by how different a place the world has become in the past six weeks. These here are crazy times, to quote an old Boom Crash Opera song — which no doubt shows my age (but also proves I’m not old enough to be included in a high risk category based on the number of years I’ve been kicking around the planet).

My own life has had a series of challenges lately, which explains my absense from my little patch of cyberspace, but that does not mean I have taken a hiatus from pursuing the delightful in my world and life. In fact, I’ve become so much more attuned to things that bring delight that I have had to start differentiating between delights and things that make me happy (like hearing my kids laughing together) and occasions of pure, unadulterated joy (such as the moment my beautiful little blue car was driven down the ramp at the Smash Repairers after being fixed, looking and smelling like it had come straight from the sales showroom).

Dark days demand delights, I say!

So rather than limiting myself to a top five or something, here (in no particular order) is a list of truly delightful things I have encountered in the past six weeks or so — many of which you are welcome to avail yoruselves of even if you are in quarantine.

Listening to Whole Albums Uninterrupted

delight 5We all have favourite songs and tunes we could listen to on repeat for days. But every now and then, it is an absolute delight to listen to a whole album in its entirety: just as the artist wanted you to hear it. In the age of the playlist the album is easily forgotten — but you can bet your last roll of toilet paper the artist who recorded it thought long and hard about which songs made the final cut and what their sequence should be on a record. Here are some albums I think benefit from listening to uninterrupted:

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
  • Max Richter — Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  • Thom Yorke — Anima
  • Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
  • Anything at all by Christine and the Queens

There are so many more…and they can transform doing the ironing or anything else uninspiring into something delightful if you let them.

Snippets of Song Lyrics

delight 3On the flip side (SUCH a bad pun it’s almost delightful), snippets of song lyrics sometimes stop me in my tracks and produce a moment of sheer delight.  Here’s one I rediscovered lately when listening to the Foo Fighters’ song “Times Like These”…

I, I’m a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight

What an image! Love, love, love it. Delighful.

Head Massages

Anyone with hair will tell you that the best thing about having a cut and colour is having your head massaged when they wash your hair at the salon. It’s deeply relaxing, a true act service, and an unmitigated delight. Enough said.

Book Deliveries

delight 4I used to joke my kids know the only two things I have regularly delivered to our house are books and wine, but since I’ve ditched the drink the only things likely to turn up on our doorstep are boxes from Booktopia.  Book deliveries are, to my mind, full of the promise of good times to come — particularly becase they are also likely to involve my favourite armchair and a cup of tea.

The last delivery I received included the tome that inspired my journey of delight, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Not surprisingly, the volume itself is delightful — it is small enough to hold comfortably in your hands, but not so tiny as to be twee. It’s also beautifully bound in silvery grey, with a lovely slip cover, and contains short essays I want to savour rather than tear through. 

Finishing Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that children become readers in the laps of their parents…

delight 1I still read aloud to my kids. I’ve done so ever since they were newborns and I suspect I will continue to do so for as long as I have literature to share with them and they have the time to hear it. For years now, most of what I have read to them would probably be considered to be above their reading level but which I think they’re capable of understanding.  In any case, since we’re reading together they can always ask questions if there are things they don’t comprehend on first hearing.

The last novel we read together was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I can honestly say that nothing has brought me greater delight in the past few months than hearing both children tell me it was the best book they’d ever read when we finished it. That said, I should qualify that statement by saying I found it equally delightful when my younger child described someone having a colossal dummy spit at school as “doing a Lady Catherine de Bourgh”. Parenting win.

Oysters

delight 2Oh! Delight in a seashell…especially at the tail end of summer. We are so spoilt with our seafood around here, thought in the interests of sustainability we try not to go overboard with our consumption. Even so, The Bloke is and always will be a sucker for a prawn roll — not the variety that looks something like a spring roll, but the kind where you cut open a fresh bread roll, butter it (in most cases generously, in his case obscenely), fill it with freshly shelled prawns and slather those with seafood cocktail sauce. Yum.

Me? I’m an oyster girl through and through, and the Sydney Rocks have been absolutely delectable this year. There is nothing more delightful chilled oysters on a hot day. Like today, even…

So that’s it for the moment, folks.  No doubt we will need to indulge in other delights as the world changes around us. Some of these delights are accessible most of the time, others might have to be savoured even more sweetly when they become available again.

In the meantime, stay safe and well, and be kind to each other.

In delight,

BJx

 

All Perfect Light and Promises

cloud 1Delight!

Even the word is delightful — to my ears, at any rate. It conjures images of warm golden sunbeams, of huge and happy smiles, and sounds of burbling streams and joyful laughter. It’s also what I have chosen to focus on this year: to notice the experiences and things that bring me moments of delight.

My inspiration for embarking on this project came from listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, when she interviewed the American poet Ross Gay about his Book of Delights. In that collection — which I have not yet read, but hope to soon — Gay presents a series of short essays written just about every day over the course of a year about what brought him delight.

Challenge accepted, I thought. What a wonderful way to find positive things in and about my life. And so, I decided to start looking more carefully at interactions and experiences I might have otherwise tuned out to, or have previously relegated to the purlieu of the mundane.

Beginning my quest, I discovered that the word delight has a Latin derivation from the verb delectare, meaning “to charm”, which is unsurprising since delightful moments tend to spring from things we find enchanting. These moments are probably happening around us all the time — if we only take the time to observe them.

My first moment of delight came came very early in the New Year, shortly after I had watched the first half of the documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence. Not only did the film remind me how brilliantly mesmerising a frontman Hutchence was, but it also prompted me to listen to some INXS. I found myself travelling down an aural memory lane, listening to the soundtrack of my childhood, when “New Sensations” started playing.

I suspect it is just about impossible not to sing along and dance to that song. It’s infectiously upbeat and in your face (in a good way), and it’s also got great lyrics. I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my life, but this time — which was sometime around New Year’s Day — one line in particular popped out at me and made me pause (despite the fact I may have been in full raucous singing along/daggy dancing mode at the time).

All perfect light and promises. 

I know that light. I’ve written about it before, some five years ago now, because I love it so much, just as surely as I love the sun rising over the sea.

cloud 2But it also struck me, in that moment, that it summed up my way of looking at the beginning of 2020, in all its bright shiny newness and with all my bold resolutions.

These moments of delight really are everywhere. They’re in songlines and skylines, in the cheerful chattering of my children, in the sinuous sprawl of our cat in the sun, in the first sip of hot Earl Grey tea in the early morning, in the scent of sweet peas and in the smell of rain and even in the stars.

Especially in the stars.

May 2020 be a year of delight for us all.