Since my last post on the personal nature of travel experiences and the benefits you can derive from them the whole idea of subjective value has been rattling around in my head.

It has been a week since I’ve been back in the UK, a week into my new, part-time working life and so far I find myself more content than I would have thought possible given that I’m sleep deprived and have 101 worries about money, plans and the future rushing around in my head. Now, although my moods have never really followed any pattern that I can interpret this time I’ve pinned this unexpected contentment down to that fact that I currently have that most precious of things: time. And time has allowed me to engage again with the simple joy of living and of doing the things I love.

unexpected delights

When I’m busy and have little time I forget to enjoy. I stop living in the moment and start living in the future. I start to take short-cuts, I do things half-assed and I don’t engage with the actual process of doing, I jump straight to the end point of done. The doing becomes a burden, an obstacle to ticking this entry off my to-do list. And so I lose the value in life. I lose the enjoyment of being and doing. This is in part one of the reasons I’ve stepped back from research. I feel that the external pressures being placed on scientists now are pushing us to be ever busier and to focus on the goals and outcomes, rather than the process of science. That shift in focus has disengaged me from my love of it and it’s a pretty terrible job if you don’t love what you do. I hear a similar story when I talk to friends in other professions. I think it is a symptom of modern life to an extent and I’m not resilient enough to keep my love alive in the face of it.

And the more I do this, the more I lose sight of those abstract things of value which defy quantification but which enrich our lives immeasurably. Aesthetics, knowledge for its own sake, ideals, kindness, daydreams. The sorts of things which are viewed as unproductive, luxuries rather than necessities, those things we discard as not necessary to our survival but which really are the stuff of contentment, which transforms survival into living. I wonder as I walk through town, how many of you are immersed in this way of living possibly without even realizing it. Do you remember to take time to appreciate the beauty of that flower growing through that crack in the pavement, the striking clarity of that bird song from the tree you pass under and the kindness in that old man’s eyes as you walk past him. When was the last time something made you stop and take an unexpected delight in existence?

I am reminded of a fleeting moment on a Dunedin bus. Daydreaming my way into town, the bus stopped for a red light at the Octagon in downtown Dunedin for a few seconds. As my gaze quested out of the window I noticed a ballet dancer moving in the open air. The bus began to move again almost before I had time to appreciate her. I had no camera with me but she is frozen in my mind’s eye. Poised under one of the Octagon’s bandstand rooves, her stage the concrete sidewalk which is raised slightly from the road to accommodate yet another of the city’s hills. Feet turned out and in an open position, one in front of the other with knees bent, she is immobilised on the brink of pushing up into a pirouette. She leans forward slightly, placing her weight on the foot that she will turn on, the back foot pushing in preparation to propel her around and around. Her graceful arms reaching, embracing the space in front of her. The picture of elegant strength; poetry (not quite) in motion.

I love ballet, but to come across it so transiently and so unexpectedly in the street, being performed by a girl dressed in baggy yoga clothes and soft trainers, delighted me. The surprise and unexpected nature of the delight I felt coupled with the little incongruences in the situation heightened my pleasure at bearing witness to her effort. I wondered how many others noticed her in their daily commute, how many paused to appreciate the beauty. I felt a little smug that I may be the only one right now aware her. And it struck me that she was practicing, not performing, out here in the open. No doubt to acclimatize herself to an audience. And fast on the back of that realization came another. What a gift to be able to produce such beauty through nothing more than sheer hard work, mindset and your body. What a seemingly selfless act to work so hard so that you might perform something that others take delight in. To work so hard and painstakingly to attain perfection, to be motivated not by financial reward but by your own passion to perform for the pleasure of others must surely be a way of living to aspire to? Has anything ever so perfectly embodied the beauty of work ethic and aesthetic appeal simultaneously? For me, I think not. I think perhaps the arts could teach our children more about how to at once be productive, add value and be content. Certainly more than any profit-driven corporate model could.

unexpected delights

And it reminded me. Stop, look around me, appreciate. Take pleasure in what I do and do these things deliberately. If I can allow myself to be open to life’s unexpected delights then I will miss less. Step off the treadmill from time to time. Do not get sucked down the rabbit hole by deadlines and appointments and to do lists. Take my time and savour the moment, you never know what you might see. And having done that, having ‘wasted’ some of my precious time filling my soul up with the stuff of living, I may just return to work with a renewed passion and be twice as productive as I was before.

When did life last please you with an unexpected delight?
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