In her beautifully-written, thoughtful book, Phosphorescence, renowned author and journalist, Dr Julia Baird, describes her love for ocean swimming, the magic properties of water, and her quest for lightness. She notes that prayer, meditation, and taking advantage of life’s simple pleasures, have helped her through some very dark days of illness and other difficulties. Drawing on lessons from many experts, such as astronauts, doctors, historians, philosophers, photographers, marine biologists, scientists and sociologists, Julia invokes some of their lessons, but also doesn’t discount the contribution of artists, poets, painters, writers and other creative people in helping her and others through dark times. A co-host of the ABC-TV’s, The Drum, Julia describes living in New York with her then husband and baby some years’ ago, where she loved her work, and enjoyed working with some wonderfully “nerdish” editors. More recently, serious brushes with cancer allowed her more time for quiet contemplation about the importance of various aspects of life, such as: maintaining friendships, taking time to talk and listen to each other, practising grace, seeking awe, eschewing vanity, observing our surroundings, being bold, and embracing family. Getting back to nature perhaps via Japanese forest bathing (based on ancient Buddhist and Shinto practices), and emulating the quietness and calmness of Australia’s indigenous people, are recommended. As Julia notes, Aboriginal Activist, Educator and Artist (and senior Australian of the Year), Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, an Elder from the Northern Territory’s Nauiyu community, believes that the greatest gift that her people can give fellow Australians is to respect the importance of silence, alertness and calm contemplation. Julia reminds us that Aboriginal culture teaches us to be patient and still, to concentrate, and be aware of our surroundings – such as in the bush – where being patient might reward us with the appearance of that special bird or special turtle, for example. Her “guard your heart” advice to her daughter is poignant and wise, especially when coupled with the importance of “using your brain” and knowing that “bad times will pass”. Well researched and with reminders about what’s important in life, it’s unsurprising that Phosphorescence ranked in The New York Times top 10 books in 2016.
Geri Bryant-Badham is a Canberra-based freelance researcher and journalist.
Geri has substantial experience in advocacy, policy and organising and managing projects, including handling budgets and finances. She has worked in various offices for a small business, a university and in the parliamentary, political, government and non-government sectors.