It was a strange evening.
The Anglo-Brazilian Carnival Christmas Ball in Chelsea.
Chelsea. Fulham. They make my heart sink with their 4x4s jamming overpriced streets and their banker-deadness drabbing the Kings Road and environs.
Plus, I always sit in traffic for hours trying to get anywhere there. (Those 4x4s I suppose).
But at the end of a residential street, not marked on the map is Hurlingham Hall. A massive house with gardens, lakes and bridges in the middle of London. A private members club of sinister proportions.
‘Who would have thought?’ I indeed thought, as I walked through the cold darkness, over the canal, up towards the burning lights of the entrance hall.
And inside: an odd hybrid. Anglo-Brazil. The stuffy old and young English black-tie brigade (whom I joined sartorially at least for the evening). And then Brazilians, laughing, trying to party. (Usually the wives were Brazilian, the husbands cracklingly British) There was a samba band and some kitschy feathered Carnival dancers. The wildly-unclasped and the buttoned-up in close proximity. All night long there was this striking tension between English reserve, standing to one side and ‘observing’ everything, and Brazilian savoir-plaire, the easy tumble towards dancing and laughter.
I’ve commented before on how complementary these two nations seems to be. The Brazilian love of enjoyment and the British cultivation of detachment. Brazilian optimism and British realism.
Having a pleasant evening with Brazilians AND Brits together, I was able to test my (admittedly flimsy) theories. Were Brazilians always ready to party? Did they have a more optimistic perspective or was I just dewy-eyed about them?
I spoke with my lovely neighbour at the table, Beatriz, and she made a comment about fun being effortless in Brazil. ‘Because there’s nothing to do. Fun just is, when you let it.’
I wondered if Brits try too hard to enjoy ourselves. Whether we make an ‘effort’, scrunching up our faces with the energy required or tanking ourselves on alcohol to launch that final push towards ‘fun’.
Standing, almost involuntarily, when the samba drums started pounding, I recalled how I’d danced for hours in Salvador without the slightest effort or exhaustion, and realised how you could dance 6 days of Carnival without killing yourself. Just letting the drumming happen, flow through you like a erosionless river.
Relaxing into the effortless state is also a goal of meditation. Not trying so hard, not making any effort at all to change things, make things better, make things fun. Just allowing things to flow through you, through the unerodable space of awareness.
It’s SO easy when it happens. You can’t believe it’s that simple.
Much of my learning from Brazil has been a relaxing into that simplicity. In fact, I’m enjoying the winter in London much more just sitting around, watching telly, talking to friends, drinking endless cups of tea, occasionally listening to a song or two. Not trying so damn hard all the time.
Ajahn Amaro often tells the story of when he was trying to be the Super Monk during his first years at Amaravati. How he only ate once a day, didn’t use a cushion to sit meditation, slept sitting up, contorted every waking moment in an effort to practice. At some point he became so exhausted by all this, that he went to the abbot, Ajahn Sumedho, telling him of his decision to give up his acetic practices and just do what all the other monks did. He was fully expecting Ajahn Sumedho to shake his head in disappointment. Instead Sumedho laughed, raised his eyebrows and said: “At last! You’re finally leaving all that behind…”
Sometimes, standing still and doing nothing is the gateway to everything. No effort required. And no dickie-bow either…