I listen to a podcast called “On Being” and through this have discovered an American poet named Ross Gay. He is a professor at Indiana University. This is a man who is into poetry, community gardening, football, words, and the practice of delight. Taking delight in things, in people.
Here is a small part of Krista Tippit interviewing him on the aforementioned podcast.
Krista asks him why he thinks the media give so much time to scary or shocking events. They discuss how human brains seem to be wired for threat; that we have automatic responses to what might endanger us. Ross Gay says that it takes a type of discipline to pay attention to what delights us. The brain on autopilot may catch all the danger but overlook joy. And that delight is not just a luxury, but something life-giving, which is a theme of one of his published works: The Book of Delights.
About 35 minutes into their discussion, they get to this:
“Gay: (people are… ) intricate and endless and unbelievable. And I also think that there’s a part of our bodies that are wired — and this is a thing that I noticed, that when I would experience something delightful, and sometimes I’d be like, “Oh, that’s wonderful” — so often, I’d be like, “I want to tell you.” It is this thing that actually makes me reach out towards someone.
And that feels bodily. I don’t know if a scientist has found this out yet, but when something good happens, do we gather around a thing? It is a feeling that I have, a deep feeling that I have, and I feel like it’s something that I witness, too, that people kind of want to share the stuff that they love.
Tippett:And what you do is, you put vivid language to it; you put beautiful, riveting words to it. So there’s a little bit of discipline involved. But that shifts it, too, to being more interesting.
Gay:How do you mean?
Tippett:Well, I mean that if we acknowledge this reality that on autopilot, we’re going to be galvanized by something terrible coming at us, then those of us who care about getting this other story about ourselves in the world out there have to also apply some intelligence to doing that well, so that it will also rivet. And it’s with this care with words and stories, which we do respond to.
Gay:And I think it also knows, or comes to know, that what is galvanizing, as well, is what we love, and has a kind of belief in that — and also believes in the thing — the book itself believes that it’s elbowing its neighbor and being like, “Right? Look at all this. What do you love? What do you love?” ”
OK, here I am, Katie, again. That question resonates with me: “What do you love? What do you love?” It is a question of identity but also purpose and desire.
I feel like that is what I am trying to do here. To show you what I love; these people, this place, life together. But also to elevate what seems ordinary. Mother Teresa says we can do no great things, we an only do small things with great love, and I feel like often small things come to us with great love.
And if you were here, I would ask you that question; what do you love? Maybe we are all recognizing right now that the privilege of being in another person’s company is a thing to love in and of itself.
Thank you for keeping company with me at a distance and sharing small delights. Please sometime tell me what delights you.