Melancholy

In times past melancholia was a term for severe depression, however, more modern definitions run along the lines of “A feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.” Personally I experience this emotion from time to time, and I actually welcome it’s arrival. Usually it will only last for several hours, typically in the evening, and I have pondered a lot lately on this unusual feeling and its causes. 

I’m beginning to think that it may be induced by the weather. The light or the stillness in the air perhaps, but I can’t say this is what brings it on for sure. What I do know is that when I feel melancholia, it is not necessarily a bad thing, but an emotion which I experience with a certain amount of joy. It is as if colours are more vivid, smells more acute, flavours more pronounced and textures felt more tactilely. It makes me wonder whether there is some kind of chemical process going on in the brain which produces these increased levels of awareness. Whatever is happening though, it is pretty amazing.

For some reason whenever I think of melancholy I think of John Milton’s Paradise Lost the epos poem written in the 17th century which tells of the ‘impious war’ between Satan’s band of rebellious angels (including Beelzebub and Mammon) and God. It also speaks of Satan’s tempting of Adam and Eve prior to their fall from grace having partaken of the forbidden fruit. The overall tone of this incredible piece of literature is very gloomy and conjures the awesome and awful power of the supernatural, of forces we don’t comprehend and of things which are ultimately unknown yet have struck fear into the hearts of millions of christians for thousands of years.

And yet it is written with such mastery, it generates such a visceral reaction to a tale we all know well that one can’t help but be awed by the beauty of the tale, the genius of its author and the effect his commanding prose has on you, the reader.

Perhaps it is just that the awful content of the poem and the awesome way in which it is written are so starkly opposed that it incites feelings of melancholia. For the strangeness of this emotion comes in that it is an unsolicited feeling of deep sadness at once opposed to a heightened awareness of the beauty and wonder of the world around you.

American Beauty, the movie, has a melancholy feel to it, and there is one scene in particular that I think captures melancholy precisely. It is when the character Ricky Fitts is filming a plastic bag floating haphazardly in the wind, and he says, “It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

Do you sometimes feel melancholy? What does it feel like to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please do comment below.

Melancholy by Paul Shanghai on deviantART

Melancholy by Paul Shanghai on deviantART

Space

The Grounds of Alexandria Article Lead - narrow-300x0

I went to a buzzing cafe this afternoon with my family. It is called The grounds of Alexandria, and it is a fantastic place. It has big, sprawling gardens with lots of greenery, hidden treasures and flowers everywhere. There are delightful food stalls, lots of yummy food, places for the kids to play and pet animals to look at.

It is always chock full of people, and it set me to wondering what it is we love about crowds. Generally speaking I would like to have more space than less. But we regularly go to places and events where our space is so lessened that it becomes difficult to think straight. You’re so busy watching what is going on around you and trying not to lose your friends that it’s hard to take it all in.

Perhaps it is the excitement of crowds, the bustle of so many souls, the energy that we create as a group that is appealing.

I was at a wedding once and I noticed am older gentleman sitting alone at the edge of the party just taking it all in. I was instantly attracted to him, and he told me that he loved to just sit back and watch it all going on around him. What a great way to view the world. To be a part of it yet not right in the centre of the action. To have enough space to see the action and form some rational thought about it. To observe and absorb. To drink it in.

Grounds

I Don’t Care

I was originally planning on writing about melancholy, an emotion I experience with pleasure every time it arrives. I am sitting in The Botanical Gardens on a gorgeous Autumn day, however, and it just doesn’t feel right. So I’m just going to wax lyrical and see where it takes me.

I am feeling particularly lucky of late. Not only am I fortunate to live in such a beautiful city, in a lucky country and be blessed with a beautiful family, but I also enjoy relative prosperity political freedom and the right to express myself how I wish. And despite the recent budget and current government in Australia, I do believe we’ve got it pretty good.

And yet there is another reason I have been doubly blessed, and that is in the most unlikely way. I nearly lost my life a few years ago, and it would be accurate to say that since then things have taken some unexpected turns. I’ve been through possibly the toughest period of my life to date, despite which I am still alive and well, privileged with so many things in life, and about to embark on a new adventure with my family, who are without doubt the most incredible blessing in my life.

It is as a result of the challenges of the past few years that I find myself in a unique and unusual position. I don’t care.

There was a time that I worked really hard, for long hours, and expended huge amounts of emotional and physical effort, in order to fulfill my ambition. I wanted to be a CEO of a listed recruitment company by the time I was 35 years old. I wanted to live in a big, beautiful house, I wanted to drive a flash car and wear a flash watch, but now I don’t care.

I have been blessed with the kind of perspective that often will only arrive after a near death experience. People who survive cancer, or a heart attack, or a serious accident, seem to be struck with an amount of clarity that usually doesn’t occur without a major trauma. Why we require trauma in our lives to realise what is really important I don’t know, and it is a question I will continue to seek the answer to.

It is clarity I possess, and I feel more rich than ever before. Because I have time. I have time to pursue my passion, to spend time with my children, to pay attention to my wife and work out what would make her really happy. I have time to explore different work options, to pursue varied paths, and to be patient while deciding what to do with what remains of this one wild, precious life.

MARY OLIVER

Social Media’s Role in Building Community

For all the negative press social media can attract, it certainly has a place in modern society, and often a very useful one. Sure, it’s a time waster, and we spend more time staring at our phones than we do communing with nature, but for a world in which the tyranny of distance is slowly being eroded by technology, social media plays an important role.

I was privileged to be a part of the growth of the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) community during it’s infancy. Ask anyone who is passionate about OCR and they will tell you that it is a community made up of positive, enthusiastic, encouraging and engaged individuals. People who inspire each other through their deeds and draw inspiration from the most unlikely of places, often other members of the community who feel they are just an average punter.

It got me to thinking, why is it that a community of people from such a broad cross section of socioeconomic, educational, geographic and cultural backgrounds exploded with such energy, such pure good will?

I think that social media has a lot to do with it. Most of those who were involved early on were part of the Spartan Race Street Team, and we all had a common goal to achieve, an altruistic one to boot. We wanted to get people involved in racing, to get them energised, off the couch, exercising and involved in life. (N.B. The genius of the Spartan Race business model is that they promoted sell outs in all the races during their first year of operation with little or no overheads. Clever.)

In addition to this, we felt we were part of something bigger than just our own little fitness goals, confined to our own little part of the world. We were contributing to a positive and fast growing phenomenon across a broad swathe of society all over the nation and even the world.

But why is it that, when a lot of us were so different, many of us a little broken, out there or downright weird, that there was never – or almost never – any negativity. There was no bagging out on others because of their body shape, their fitness levels, their looks or their interests. Certainly this has something to do with the fact that we often only knew as much as a profile picture and comments would tell us, but I believe it was more than that.

Confronted with a new group of people face to face, we can become intimidated, nervous, shy or overcompensatory. But from behind our computer screens, we are comfortable with how we look, even in our pj’s, we have time to stop and think before we reply to someone. We can digest someone’s comments and ponder their true meaning before taking offence and reacting defensively.

We can afford to be a little more civilised, for we have time. Time to reflect. Time to think. Time to give someone the benefit of the doubt or view whatever may have been said with a different lens.

So before you jump on the ‘social media is evil’ bandwagon, ponder the ways in which it has allowed fledgling communities to grow and flourish. Get involved with one even. You may just like it.

The Power of the Written Word

A lot has been said of late about the insidious nature of social media on society. Ironically, the only way for people without a traditional media platform to utilise, the only way to get this message out is through social media. That tends to diminish the impact of what they are trying to say. While I can certainly see both sides of the coin in terms of the benefits and evils of social media, I think we can all agree it is here to stay.

Though just as the commoditisation of milk at $1 per litre has increased the demand for high quality, unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk, the proliferation of social media has increased the impact of the written word.

I received a postcard from my friend the other day which she wrote three years ago. It was written in France, during a time in her life which was quite difficult. I had spoken to her and written her a letter to say that all will be well in time, and quite forgotten about it until she gave me the postcard, which had been floating around her luggage since.

Written in a style that is so uniquely hers, in neat, tiny little script and with such an understated yet passionate tone – interspersed with french as her writing often is – I was struck by just how important the written word is.

And I’m not even talking about words that are typed and printed for distribution, I’m talking about pen and paper, ink and effort, love and commitment to putting something on the page straight from your heart.

In ancient roman times people began wearing wedding rings as they believed that there was a vein that ran directly from the third finger to the heart. And I like to think that similarly, when putting pen to paper, you are putting something of your heart into what you write.

It’s the handwriting itself, be it elegant and flowing or messy and indecipherable, the choice of words, the sentence structure, the greeting and the sign off that someone uses when writing to you that distinguish it as uniquely from them to youThere’s an intangible quality to something that is written by hand that is directly linked to the fact that it is so tangible.

I’ve kept important e-mails from people, but sooner or later they disappear. Yet I have letters written to me when I was a teenager that I will cherish forever. The smell and crinkle of the paper, the fact that those words are mine is what makes the written word so powerful.

So next time you want to say something important, if you can’t say it to someones face, in fact WHEN you can’t say it to someones face, write it down. Find some nice paper and a good pen, or scribble it on a scrap of tissue with your eye liner if you must, just write sit down. Put it in an envelope, attach a stamp, or sneak it into your friends handbag or pocket when they aren’t watching. See how much more it means than a post on their wall or an e-mail.

I’d love to hear from you if you decide to follow up on this, so please reply to my post if you do.

Pen:Sword