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!

Tempus Fugit

tempus 2

Time flies, as any wag will tell you, when you’re having fun.

But here in Sydney, as our glorious summer holidays are drawing all too swiftly to a close, my mind has turned to Virgil’s original words, written in his Georgics centuries ago.

Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour, as point to point our charmed round we trace.

VIRGIL trans. Rhoades

We have had a fortunate summer, sun-filled and surf-drenched, with barefoot days and balmy nights.

And while the clocks sometimes seemed to slow during the past six weeks, time — inescapable, irretrievable time — has slipped steadily, stealthily by.

tempus 1I mean it’s there, if I look for it.  I know I could find snippets of it between the pages of the dozen novels I’ve read since Christmas, or catch a glimpse or two between beach towels flapping in the breeze on the washing line. There’s probably a drop or two left in a wineglass on a windowsill somewhere, and a few morsels thrown in with the leftover salads in the fridge. I will no doubt discover a few more bits in with the various brightly coloured cards and plastic pieces of board games we’ve played during the heat of the day, or find some slipped into the pocket of one of my kids’ shorts with a couple of movie ticket stubs.

But now, at the end of my favourite month of the year, there is only a day or two left before school resumes for my girls — a new start for one, a familar return for the other — and I will admit feeling slightly nostalgic and a little bereft. The irreparable hour has well and truly flown, and I am reminded of my favourite childhood picture book, Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, about another summer, spent by another family comprising, as ours does, of a mother, father and two sisters, far away in Maine.

I know this feeling is universal and, ironically, timeless: Virgil wrote about it in the first century and McCloskey was still picking up the theme in the twentieth.

But I also know that there will be a certain heaviness in my heart and a lag in my step when we wend our way from point to point on our own charmed round this evening…down to the beach for one last swim as a family, and back home again for a BBQ and a quiet glass of wine.

That charmed round isn’t going anywhere — and I am well aware we are beyond lucky to live where we do — but it’s never quite the same once school has started again, and the long summer days have lost their laziness, and a perhaps a little of their loveliness.

Take a farewell look at the waves and sky. Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder — for wondering, for instance, where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

ROBERT McCLOSKEY

tempus 3

Home…

January Days

Janus

Janus, the God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. Because that’s enough for one deity’s To Do List.

I love January.

It’s a time of sultry mid-summer Sydney days, blue skies and sea breezes. A time of fresh starts and new beginnings, reflections and resolutions. It’s by far the best and longest of the school holidays. It’s the month I was born in.

Like Janus, the Roman God from whom the month takes its name, I feel strangely two-faced in January. One part of me kicks off the new year with plans and focused precision, tackling tasks I wouldn’t have time to otherwise and ticking boxes beside long overdue items on my To Do List. This part of me cleans, declutters, sorts, organises and schedules like nobody’s business, but then…

…then, the other part of me kicks back.  This part of me takes full advantage of the sun-drenched days and long golden evenings by soaking up the sunshine with a good book in one hand and a cool drink in the other, by wandering the well-trodden path the the beach to restore my soul as only saltwater can, or simply by curling up somewhere comfortable and daydreaming, pondering and wondering.

Warrior 2

One hand in the past, the other in the future, the self in the present…finding Sthira and Sukha within.

My recurrent January duality reminds me somehow of the yoga teaching that comes from the Sutra of Patanjali: that we should balance sthira (strength and steadiness) with sukha (ease — or, as it literally translates from Sansrkit, “good place”). On a yoga mat, you know without any doubt when you’re there, or even when you’re getting close to finding that good place.

And so, in my times of pondering and wondering recently, I have come to consider the possibility that the purpose of January Days is to remind us of that balance, of the need to find sthira and sukha in every part of life, of the opportunity to kick off and kick back throughout the year, of the chance to be peaceful warriors each day.

I’m going to find that good place, and to keep looking for it even when it seems as far away as a summer’s day does in midwinter.

This year, I wish you strength and ease.