It’s a deal I’ve made with myself, although sometimes I forget.
The deal is that every day of my life I try to notice and celebrate, inwardly, something beautiful in the world around me. In return for me remembering to do this, I can get a sensation of peace and pleasure that lasts well beyond that day. The deal started once when I was walking along a suburban street. I realised I was in a lousy mood and wondered why. I realised my mood was a self-imposed thing that was stopping me from taking pleasure in my surroundings. I also realised I had control over it, on this particular day at least. What I remember is looking up then and admiring the blueness of the sky, feeling the air in my lungs and the pleasant sensation of simply walking. A little surge of something like exhilaration went through me then; thinking what a lovely thing it was to be alive. From then on, I’ve tried to remember to remind myself every day of that pleasure, and to renew it by admiring something.
Once I remember to look, lots of things press for attention. It might be a vivid king parrot in the portwine magnolia in the backyard. Or beautiful dew-jewelled spider webs in long grass. Or a spear of birds sweeping across the sky in formation. Or a flock of pigeons wheeling in unison with the sun in their wings. Or a deep bank of salmon-pink clouds. Or a leafy stem of a delicate plant pushing above the surface of a pond. Or a lazy fish basking in the warm water of a shallow pool. Or ants, racing around on the ground near my feet, thoroughly intent on their business. Or a dragon-fly. Clouds of butterflies. Bright new shoots on the branch of a tree. Generally some particular thing stands out in a day as a highlight, and not necessarily only because it’s objectively beautiful, but instead because of some thought or feeling it evokes in me.
It’s not always visual beauties. Recently I noticed how superb was a mandarin I was eating: how luscious it was in flavour, and how perfect was its texture. Other times it’s been a really melodic birdsong, or the sound of running water, or rain on a roof.
It might be a mannerism of a beloved person, or a warm embrace full of acceptance and caring.
Yesterday it was another sky-display: beams of pale sunlight shafting down like a wide radiant curtain from behind clouds as I drove alongside the river at Hexham. It was a glorious sight, and I was thankful that I’d actually noticed and made that little internal celebration, realising as usual that too often I let such beauties happen around me without even paying attention.
At the very least these little inward celebrations of being alive make me feel better. At best they prompt me to deeper reflection. Like imagining the world as it might be perceived by a butterfly. Considering how genetically and biologically programmed behaviours and motivators govern living things, and realising that I’m in that respect not much different from the other creatures I see and admire around me. Thinking of a river as a metaphor for life, lives and time. Contemplating how all these pleasures of the senses are constructs of the mind, as is all the meaning I find in the things my senses contact.
Slivers of the world
These little conscious encounters with slivers of the world are like micro-meditations sometimes, with lasting questions and ideas for me to revisit later on, when I call to mind my recollections of the things I chose to see, hear, smell, taste, touch and savour.
Today I didn’t do much of anything special, but I saw some things that made me think. Uncharacteristically for me, I not only savoured those things in the moment, but I took photos of them, to try to share some of what I found.
It’s tempting to see only a war memorial in this, and perhaps to deplore the erasure by time and the elements of a record of personal sacrifice and loss. What I saw today was the smallness of human beings and our causes in the face of unstoppable time. Sad? Maybe, but beautiful too, because mortality is such a strange and special thing.
This was being used as a doorstop in a residence. Its beauty struck me immediately and forcibly. It was once clay. Men dug the clay and baked it into bricks. The bricks were laid with mortar into a wall. The wall was knocked down and the pieces went into the sea. And here it is: heart-shaped and full of story.
People took a rock and shaped it and put it in a wall. I imagined it was a book and that I read a story in it.
A friend drew my attention to this damaged sea shell sitting on a garden bed. She had already seen beauty in it. I saw some too. I wonder if we saw the same beauty, or was it different to each of us? I didn’t ask. It doesn’t matter.