Today is the last day of Miss Malaprop’s school holidays, and as the hours have ticked by I have found myself thinking about that old song by The Doors:
Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing or find a new town...
It’s been an unusual holiday, to say the least, and many of our activities were circumscribed by the date on which Miss Malaprop herself could receive her first Pfizer shot. Our casual joys have been destroyed by this pandemic — or, more accurately, by the choices I have made to keep my children as safe as I can, the best way I know how. After all, keeping them safe is my main job.
We’re doing our best to go on playing, because there’s absolutely no point in finding a new town when we are completely in love with where we live. We are incredibly lucky to live a short walk from the beach, and heading down there whenever the mood strikes us has kept an element of spontaneity in our otherwise contained lives.
The ocean is where I feel most at peace at the moment.
In a world that seems to be almost permanently tainted by anxiety, the sea is where I am free.
Floating in saltwater is one of the most calming and beautiful experiences I know of: my muscles relax more deeply and my mind quiets more quickly than when I am anywhere else.
And even though this has been a strange summer, I suspect some of my memories of being in the water in the past few weeks with my girls will endure.
In which the Thrify Fictionista abandons her usual carefully considered annual Top 5 posts and crams all her thoughts about the things she has read, watched and listened to during 2021into one hot mess of a post entirely appropriate for the year that was…
Folks, I am so grateful for the gift of literacy. To be able to read — and hence escape between the pages of a book — is one of my life’s true delights, a pleasure that has only been heightened by being part of a protracted historical event. So, as of now, I’m putting on my positive pants and dismissing any further mentions of that pesky Pandemic in this post, and presenting to you in an order as yet unknown to me with the things I loved most this year. Books, TV shows, movies, songs and various bits of ephemera that caught my attention, held it, and made me feel. Because FEELING is what it’s all about, my friends.
I’m going to kick things off by recommending Craig Silvey’s book Honeybee, which just so happened to be the first book I read in 2021. It’s brilliant. So much so, I wondered whether I would read anything as good for the rest of the year (spoiler alert — I did, so please read on). Honeybee made me laugh, cry, shake my fist in both rage and triumph. I absolutely loved it, and reckon you should get a copy for yourself. Pronto.
Another summer holiday read I thoroughly enjoyed was Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. In addition to having a cracking storyline following the main protagonist, Kerry Salter, and generations of her First Nations family, this story is dramatic and darkly comic. I may have found it even more engaging because the country where the tale is set (despite focusing on a fictional town called Durrongo) reminded me strongly of a part of northern NSW where I spent a lot of summers during my childhood.
Shortly after reading these, I got stuck into watching Narcos on Netflix. I was very late to the party, I know, but after watching Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian I was keen to see what he could do without a helmet on and was not disappointed. Wagner Moura did a brilliant job of portraying Pablo Escobar and (being a non-Spanish speaker) I was not troubled by the fact that he apparently wasn’t so great at nailing the Medellín accent. Watching Narcos was an edge-of-your-seat ride combining politics, risky and highly illegal business, insurgents, excess and corruption, ever-present danger, families and cartels, the Colombian jungle, and a few blokes who were trying to stop the whole cocaine trade in its tracks, and I loved it.
By the time Lockdown rolled around again (I think it was the third one for us — the one that went for 17 weeks?), our whole family was looking for something to escape into, and when we weren’t snort-laughing watching back episodes of Travel Guides, which we also watched to take in scenery of anywhere but our own backyard, we got right into The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus. This was a show the entire family enjoyed, and the fact that a new episode dropped only once a week gave Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop a taste of what life was like for The Bloke and I when we were kids in the days before streaming services. We’re all looking forward to Season Two!
Speaking of second seasons, we also used up quite a few tissues earlier in the year watching Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds on ABC iView, which also prompted Marvel Girl to develop an app for older Australians with some of her classmates for a Praxis project at school. The entire family loved the show and The Bloke and I were really proud when Marvel Girl and her mates took out the top gong for the project it inspired.
During lockdown I also embarked up on a Couch to 5km project that was curtailed only by us having to pack up and move house, but heading out on a run gave me the opportunity to listen to tunes. Not surprisingly, the music I’ve been listening to this year has been far more gentle than I would normally go for. I got into things like:
Running Red Lights by the Avalanches, Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu
Balenciaga by New West
Strange Girl by Laura Marling
Smile by Valerie June
Move by Flight Facilities, DRAMA
I also delved back into some oldies but goodies like The Wallflowers’ One Headlight, Funkadelic’s Can You Get to That and U2’s I Will Follow. Troubled times call for familiar favourites.
On the reading front, I got through those seventeen long weeks with the help of Hilary Mantel and hertruly remarkable trilogy of Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies (both of which I re-read) and The Mirror and the Light. I am in awe of Mantel’s writing: sometimes her words were so beautifully, perfectly chosen that I would have to mark my place in whichever of the gorgeous hardbacks I was currently reading with the jewel-toned ribbon bound into the cover and simply close my eyes. Then I would go back and read the passage again and sigh (often quite audibly), and would then find myself hoping that one day I, too, will be able to write so succintly, so eloquently, so precisely, and also to elicit such feeling. Because — as I said earlier — it’s all about the FEELING, folks.
I had a similar reaction to reading Ed Ayres’ book Whole Notes, which is truly and utterly a MUST READ for any music lover. Unusually for me, I have embarked upon a second reading of this volume, which is part “call to instruments” and part memoir of becoming a trans man aged 50 (better late than never, as Ed says). Same goes for the brilliant Trent Dalton’s book Love Stories — but as any regular readers of this blog will know, the Thrifty Fictionista is a massive fan of Dalton’s work and it did not come as a surprise to me that I found myself wanting to stretch Love Stories out for as looooooong as I could, trying to make it last — it was that good.
What else did I enjoy this year? I binged all three seasons of Medici on SBS On Demand and found myself going down various Florentine themed rabbitholes on the interwebs for quite some time afterwards. Filmwise, I got a bit of a kick out of the 2020 movie Rose Island (or, in the original Italian, L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose), and I also enjoyed Hugh Grant in The Gentlemen.
The Bloke and I decided it was high time we introduced the kids to Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, and so far we’ve watched Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. I suspect Spectre will be on the menu soon (if my offspring are not devouring more episodes of Gilmore Girls, which they have recently discovered and have many questions about — including what a video store was — thereby making The Bloke and I feel somewhat antiquated, if not ancient). We also made the kids watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which looks massively dated but the jokes still hold up, for the most part. I tried to get them into watching Lupin (which I loved) but it only piqued the interest of the Paris-loving Marvel Girl, and failed to grab Miss Malaprop. That said, we all thoroughly enjoyed Hawkeye.
There are a couple of other things I don’t think I could have got through 2021 without — like watching episodies of 30 Rock on Stan, because sometimes all you really need is 20 minutes of madness and mayhem from Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to lift your spirits. In a year where internet shopping has taken on a life of its own, I am still eyeing off a T shirt reading “Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks” in honour of Jenna Maroney’s alma mater, but I ended up settling for a 3 pack of Silent Theory T shirts instead (the Lucy style is great and the quality is top notch, in case you’re asking). Another internet purchase I loved? A drink bottle from Target that has the hours of the day printed down the side so I know where my water intake should be up to when. But I digress…
What else? What else did the Thrifty Fictionista love? Well, towards the end of the year I got right into reading Dave Grohl’s book The Storyteller, which inspired our New Year’s Eve feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken and French Champagne. And I finished up the year reading Hannah Kent’s Devotion, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and Anne Enright’s Actress — all of which were great, and made for a solid finish to a rather troublesome year.
And so, friends, here endeth the Thrifty Fictionista’s cultural ramblings through the year that was. I would love to hear what you watched, listened to and read during the past year than made it more bearable for you and yours. I hope you find some solace or joy in what I enjoyed.
I’m sitting by the window in my bedroom, feeling the breeze and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine. Rain is forecast for most of the week, though we’ve been fortunate to have had a run of wonderful weather lately.
This Lockdown business doesn’t get any easier, does it?
The restrictions keep tightening — necessarily, in my view — and the days we’ve spent with the same people inside the same four walls keep increasing.
But the days are getting longer, too, and warmer. Yesterday Marvel Girl said she smelled a hint of summer in the air, and I suspect she was right.
Yesterday was a good day.
No working or schooling from home. No phonecalls. No Zoom.
We walked down to the netball courts near home, found a vacant hoop and played two on two for a while. Turns out that in addition to having a height advantage The Bloke and I still make a good team when it comes to ball sports. There was plenty of sledging and silliness and we laughed a lot while working up a sweat, then wandered home again.
Later in the evening, The Bloke pulled out the portable firepit we had planned to use on a camping holiday that got cancelled way back at the beginning of Lockdown. We gathered around it, filling it with dry sticks from the back yard and firewood from the servo down the road, and got a crackling blaze going. Soon we had salmon cooking over the flames, and then sat eating from plates laden with fish and salad and rice.
The moon rose, full and white, serene and wondrous.
We saw the International Space Station fly past.
We roasted marshmallows in the embers, ate popcorn and answered a steady stream of trivia questions from Miss Malaprop.
We played music: Christine and the Queens, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Wallflowers, Flight Facilities, Quincy Jones.
And then we tumbled into bed — tired, smoky and happy.
Last month I began my journey along the road to delight, and it’s having some surprising results. In a short space of time, noticing the moments, feelings, things and experiences that delight me is becoming increasingly second nature. And as I become more attuned to the delightful in my life and my world, I am discovering a corresponding increase in the gratitude I feel.
These are some of things that I have found delightful over the past couple of weeks.
The Libby App
Anyone who follows this blog with any degree of regularity will know I am a bookworm. Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a book in my favourite armchair: a deep blue velvety wingbacked piece beside my bedroom window, which places me within easy reach of a sill to put a hot mug of tea on and in the path of the beautiful sea breezes that grace the Sydney seaboard at this time of year. And while my beloved armchair (quite obviously) qualifies as an object of delight in my life, so does the recently acquired Libby app on my iPad.
I’m not sure what size or manner of rock I have been living under, but it did not occur to me until the (recently ended) summer holidays to investigate the online borrowing prospects from my local library. What an Aladdin’s cave of treasures I have encountered since! So far I have plowed through three or four books on the iPad, borrowed in seconds and returned with equal ease from the comfort of my favourite bookreading snug spot. I’ve also read more widely than I would usually, depending on what was available to borrow at the time. Who knew an app could bring me such joy? Libby is my new best friend.
I suspect Scheherazade would have approved, too.
The Ice CreamArtiste
Ice cream — particularly, in my case, the non-dairy variety — is generally delightful.
But a beautifully crafted scoop of ice cream in a cone? That’s downright magical — especially if it’s from the artisan ice cream parlour that has miraculously opened at the end of my street. There, a man we’ll call Theo (because that’s his name) serves astonishingly delicious home made ice creams he sculpts — yes, sculpts — onto cones and into cups.
There is something truly wonderful about watching someone make something for you with such care and deliberation.
It’s also somehow humbling.
And did I mention it was delicious?
The Sound and Smell of Rain
Summer in Australia has been marred this year by destruction and devastation on a scale so vast the word “unprecedented” has nearly been worn out. Parts of our extended family have been directly affected by the bushfires, though mercifully their homes and most of their properties have been saved.
After days and weeks of high temperatures and thick smoke smothering Sydney, however, the arrival of rain a week or so ago was more than welcome. For someone who has taken to listening to the Night Rain playlist on Spotify to get to sleep, hearing the sound of the real thing on the roof and smelling the difference in the air was unbelievably comforting. And with more of the good stuff due in the next few days, I am hopeful it will bring delight wherever it falls.
My Cat’s Response toYoga
Now that the kids have gone back to school, I’m turning my attention to achieving some of my goals for the year — including timetabling and prioritising regular exercise. Getting out for a walk during the cool of the early morning was something I enjoyed doing with the girls when they were on holidays (well, mostly…when they weren’t whinging), but now I have more time to myself I have been getting out my mat and doing some yoga via YouTube.
Exercise itself could be listed here as a delight — who doesn’t love an endorphin rush? But the unexpected upside of my living room yoga sessions is the way my cat responds: no matter where Tauriel has been curled up sleeping or snoozing (I’m so reincarnating as a cat in a comfortable home), by the time I find myself in savasana she is there beside me, circling around me, brushing up against me and purring loudly, no doubt drawn by the positive energy that yoga just about always brings.
So there you have it! Some postcards from my first steps along the road to delight. I’m sure there will be many more to come.
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.
But 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.
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.
I 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?
So I can’t say I’ve done a huge amount of movie-going this year, and I still haven’t watched Season 4 of Peaky Blinders, which I know would have made my list had I got around to it…some things have to be savoured. Because Cillian Murphy.
But I did manage to see a few things that caught both my eye and my attention, so without further ado, here is Blue Jai’s Top 5 on Screen for 2018.
1. Nanette (Netflix Special)
This incredible piece of writing and genuine human bravery by Hannah Gadsby was intended as her farewell to comedy, but became a significant part of a much larger global conversation about equality.
I have no idea how Gadsby pulled off doing her live show of Nanette night after night, but I do know it sparked a rare argument between me and The Bloke and moved me to write about my reaction to that event and to watching this tour de force, which I called We Need More Words. Because we do. This, in my view, and with no pun intended, is compulsory viewing.
2. The Bridge (Season 4)
Another piece of viewing that resulted in its own blog post was the final instalment in the brilliant Swedish/Danish production The Bridge (Bron|Broen). There is so much I love about this show — despite it being Nordic Noir at its finest, with all that entails, I was so attached to the main characters and invested in the eventual outcome of their respective journeys (particularly after the brilliant final episode of Season 3) that I did not want Series 4 to end.
But since it as, I’m looking forward to watching this again. No, wait…let’s be clear: I’m looking forward to sitting down with all four seasons through again. If you’ve not seen it, please start at the beginning and stick to the original Scandi production instead of wasting your time with remakes. For me, The Bridge sets the benchmark for quality TV viewing.
3. Ant-man & The Wasp (Movie)
Generally speaking I include one sentimental favourite in my Top 5 each year, and this is 2018’s offering. I freely admit to being a sucker for any Marvel movie, and felt it my duty as a fan to include one this year as a tribute to the late, great Stan Lee.
The main reason Ant-man & The Wasp makes this year’s list, however, is that we have finally got to the point where we can see Marvel Movies (well, some of them) as a family — and this was our first shared experience of the Marvel Universe together. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop enjoyed the film so much that they went to see it a second time with The Bloke’s parents, who were as baffled by the storyline as they were by the girls’ massive enjoyment of it, but I’m chalking that up as a parenting win. Antman & The Wasp was a rollicking good time, complete with “that gigantic underpants scene” my kids found so funny. What’s not to love?
4. Arrival (Movie)
Yeah, yeah…I know — this came out ages ago, but finally popped up on Netflix so I actually got to watch it, so it’s on my list for 2018.
That said, I found the concepts in this film so intriguing — particularly the treatment of time and language. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner both delivered solid, convincing performances, and I was genuinely moved by the decisions Adams’ character faces and ultimately makes. This is so much more than a “human meets alien” flick, and it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time.
5. The Last Kingdom (Season 3)
An unusual choice? Perhaps, but I’m as big a sucker for TV based on historical events (regardless of its accuracy) as I am for historical fiction. The Bloke and I do struggle with — and snigger at — the voiceover that precedes each episode of this Netflix Original starring Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon raised from early childhood as a Dane during the time of Alfred the Great.
This, to my mind, is the strongest of the three seasons made so far, particularly in its depiction of Uhtred’s changing relationship with his childhood friend Brida and of King Alfred’s struggles as he faces his impending death. The presentation of the idea of England — an as yet unrealised dream, intangible but still powerful — also drew me in. If you like a bit of drama with a few big battle scenes and plenty of long haired blokes running around with swords, The Last Kingdom is plenty of fun.
Honourable Mentions this year go to Black Panther, a movie that has generated a bunch of press for all the right reasons as well as being a fantastic addition to the Marvel Universe, to Salt, Fat, Acid Heat, Samin Nosrat’s fantastic Netflix series that is part travelogue as well as being a top notch cooking show, and to every single brilliantly written season of Brooklyn 99, my go-to pick-me-up comedy.
And now, since it’s the summer holidays, hit me with your best viewing of 2018!
Choosing my Word of the Month for December was an absolute no-brainer: it is, and could only be, CELEBRATE!
We seem to have a special investment in Christmas (particularly) and the Festive Season (more generally) here in the Southern Hemisphere. Our Christmases may not be white, fur-lined or fir-filled as they are in all the traditional carols, but here they are blue-skied, sunny and trimmed with sand and surf.
More importantly, they represent completion as much as they do birth. There is a real sense of “we made it“… the school year is over, workplaces tend to shut down, and everyone gets swept up in a whirl of carol nights and Christmas parties celebrating the end of another year.
We all watch Love Actually for the umpteenth time, despite the fact our winter coats have long been stashed away. Summer arrives, in all its splendour.
Stone fruits are in season — mangoes and plums, peaches and nectarines — and seafood and salads seem the obvious choice for dinner, particularly when paired with prosecco or a crisp sav blanc.
And even though several people have commented to me recently that everyone seems so stressed at this time of year, but my own experience has been quite the opposite. When I went to the grocery store the other day to do the last Big Shop before the Big Day, I was amazed by the number of strangers who smiled at each other and engaged each me and others in conversation — there was a palpable sense of Christmas cheer in the air.
So I wish you, and anyone who has followed the Blue Jai Creative journey this year, a Christmas worth celebrating this year. May it be filled with the things that warm your heart and nourish your soul, wherever you find yourself.
And me? I’ll be with my family, making Christmas last as long as we can until New Years Eve rolls around, enjoying long sultry days and balmy summer nights until we welcome 2019 with glorious starbursts of fireworks above Sydney Harbour.
November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.
Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation. But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.
November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.
I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.
Because it’s time, people.
It’s time to put all the pieces together.
At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.
Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.
And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.
If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style. Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.
That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.
The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism. For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.
If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives. We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.
In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.
We are Mandala People.
All of us.
Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.
It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.
Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.
Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.
So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.
We are Mandala People.
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That’s the word I’ve chosen to focus on for February at Blue Jai Creative — not least because here in the Great Southern Land, summer has heralded its annual leave-taking with hot and humid weather. The Silly Season and its many distractions are over, New Year’s Resolutions have (hopefully) taken hold, and our children have dutifully trouped off back to school for the year.
It’s time to get back into the swing of things. To ramp up our efforts. To take the plunge.
It’s time to connect.
Since February began, however, I have realised that there’s not much point in doing any of these things unless our actions are focused. And now is the perfect time to paint a clear picture in our mind’s eye of what we might want to achieve in the upcoming year — hence, my word of the month and my current plan:
Connect with people. They are our most valuable and — frequently — most overlooked resource. Call someone who is a positive presence in your life, and when you’ve had an uplifting chat, pay it forward if you can — even if it’s just by smiling at a stranger. Find a mentor. Thank a supporter. Ask a colleague for help if you need it. Compliment someone. And connect especially with your clients; listen to what they have to say, and let what you hear help you map out your plans.
Connect with your inner voice. Know what your First Principles are, the guiding tenets that keep you and your journey on track. For example, my First Principles (which revolve around words, music, and food) remind me to keep on creating, to listen to things that bring me joy and peace, and to eat well so I can sustain myself properly. Living and working in alignment with your own First Prinicples will always bring you greatest satisfaction, because you will be living and working authentically.
Connect with what inspires you. In the normal, real world, what you do for work may not take you to dizzying heights of bliss. For many of us, some or even much of what we do can feel repetitive or mundane. Taking the time to seek inspiration — whether it’s playing a particular song, baking a cake, reading, swimming in the ocean, getting up early to see the sunrise, updating your vision board, taking a walk in the rain, or whatever else delights you — can help to keep you motivated to turn up and take the next step.
Connect the dots. No matter how winding the path you take, make sure that each step along the way is bringing you closer to your goals. Connecting the dots helps you bring perspective to your decision making and can help you stay the course when you feel discouraged or distracted. And if you’ve already connected with people, your inner voice and what inspires you, you’ll already know that the quality of your journey is just as important (if not more so) as wherever you’re hoping to get to.
…throughout history and around the globe…
Focusing on this one word (talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, in alignment with my own First Principles) has made me realise that throughout history, around the world, and across every discipline of human endeavour, some of our deepest and most innovative thinkers have all been saying the same thing: we are all connected.
Here’s what Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had to say during the Renaissance:
To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science, learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.
Or the Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit texts that inform much of Hinduism, written in India six centuries BCE:
Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.
During the Romantic era the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met”, while in the twentieth century the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) reminded us that, “We are all the leaves of one tree; we are all the waves of one sea.”
Perhaps, in more recent years, it has fallen to the scientists to spell things out in their usual succinct fashion. In the words of American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:
We are all connected — to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically.
…and we’re all making journeys towards the same end. That’s our greatest connection.
Or, as Nikola Tesla (1816-1943) — inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist — summed it up even more simply when he said “We are all one.”
We all make these journeys — weaving in and out of each others’ worlds and crossing each others’ paths along the way. We’re all doing the same thing, each day, to take the steps to get us to where we want to be. We really are all connected.
And should these words of mine, spiralling out into cyberspace, connect with you today, may you discover connections with people who support you, with experiences that inspire you, with the guidance within you, and every last dot along the way.