It’s taken me decades to admit this: I’m not spontaneous.
Some of you may be thinking, “Duh. It’s hard to be spontaneous when you’re an anal-retentive control freak.” For me, it’s not so much about control, but rather being dependable, organized, meticulous, and impeccable. But, whatever — tomato tomato.
Anyway, I’ve always liked to imagine myself easygoing, footloose, fancy free, and fun. I really like the idea of spontaneity. To be someone who might take off on an impetuous adventure, try something new just for the hell of it, regularly surprise others and myself with such madcap abandon that those around me are constantly marveling, “What in the world is he going to get himself up to next?!”
The idea is very appealing, but the reality — not so much. In real life, I make plans and stick to them. I honor my commitments like my life depends on them. I’ve developed routines and habits and practices that keep me on track, and I get a lot done.
Which is all great. There’s nothing wrong with being dutiful and methodical. AND… it doesn’t leave much room for the impromptu. It is a tad sobering to recognize and admit that I don’t really live that much on the wild side.
A muesli and granola snack bar company in the United Kingdom — Alpen Delight — recently commissioned a survey about what people find “delightful.” This poll was a corporate marketing thing, so I won’t vouch for its scientific impartiality, but still I found it interesting and sweet. The study included over 2000 adults, and produced a list of people’s Top 30 Delights.
Three things jumped out at me from the results: 1) the delights were unexpected, spontaneous; 2) the delights were quite simple and ordinary; 3) many of the delights are things that we can instigate or create for others. To this last point, the survey found that delighting others was also really delightful.
According to Alpen Delight, the top delights in life include when someone lets you go ahead in the supermarket line, catching a run of green lights while driving, getting a post card from a friend for no special occasion, finding money in a coat pocket, and receiving a compliment from a stranger.
None of these, in itself, is much of a big deal.
But it does seem that being attuned to delight, to the possibility of it — being open to it and seeing oneself as a participant in it — might have a tremendous cumulative effect.
An unexpected delight is an instant mood booster. Participants in the survey said that delightful occurrences helped to restore their faith in humanity and their sense of life’s workability. And most people said that after being on the receiving end of a delight, they were likely to pay it forward.
That sounds to me like a good way to begin changing the world.
I’m thinking about how to bring a little more delight to life.
e.e. cummings wrote, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
That sounds fantastic. AND it makes me wonder if my functional over-reliance on routine and organization betrays a lack of belief in myself. Or a lack of belief in others. Or in the world. A lack of faith. Probably.
I’m much better at aiming to delight others because that’s something I can plan beforehand — I can make it convenient in my schedule, and do it without interrupting my own flow. This is an important component in the delight cycle and I don’t want to discount it. However, I’m probably not nearly as open to the receiving end of spontaneous delights as I might be…
I looked up the origins of the word “delight” and was surprised to discover that it’s not related to “light.” It comes from the Latin delectare — to charm, please, or entice — which also gave us the words “delectable” and “delicious.” Delight has a whiff of seduction or temptation about it. It harkens not to buttoned-up micromanagement but to something with a freer swing.
My etymological research led me to the Greek and Hebrew words translated as “delight” in the English Bible — hepes and anagh. Hepes means “to bend toward.” Anagh means “to be soft and pliable.”
To delight in God, to delight in the world, to be delighted and delightful with others means to be easy — to lean into things as they are — to embrace life, go with it, and look for its sweetness.
Clearly, sometimes, this is very hard. When circumstances have bruised our confidence, when life seems to be doling out mostly lemons, when our hearts are breaking — the thought of openness, receptivity, and spontaneity can be pretty terrifying. For me, anyway. That’s when I want to batten down the hatches, eliminate the variables, and stick to the original plan.
Unfortunately, this can become a habitual and guarded way of being that we implement not just in times of crisis, but regularly. It turns all our time into crisis-management. And leaves us less likely to notice, or to fully appreciate the wonderful little delights that are ever available. The million kindnesses, coincidences, synchronicities, discoveries, and miracles that comprise every single day.
So my commitment, going forward, is to make room for delight. Because I can’t totally let go of my organizational (controlling) nature, I’ll give it some bullet points — a to-do list for spontaneity, an action plan for appreciating the unexpected:
- Be on the lookout for delights, and don’t minimize them when they happen.
- Practice holding plans and intentions as lightly as possible without undercutting commitment. Ask, “Can I be deeply committed and wide-open to the unexpected at the same time?”
- Create delight for others, and let this be something ordinary, unexceptional, easy. Let it simply be an example of how people are together, the innate goodness and connection of our human being.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, November 5, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. Don’t forget to set your clocks back! XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves