I am so grateful for the restorative capacity of beauty. I started the day feeling a little “full moon blue” after a restless night, disturbed by the neighbor’s wild party and the energy of the full moon. Leo energy can be pretty intense in the ‘dog days’ of summer (also an astrological event) and when I checked the chart for the day I saw that the full moon was squaring my natal sun and that Saturn was square to my natal Saturn conjunct Pluto. For those of you who have no idea what that means let me just saw there were reasons that living in my own skin was uncomfortable.
So, I was more than a little cranky when I woke and the glorious day did not match my impending thunderstorm mood. Knowing that I wanted to shift my energy I decided to go for a walk even though my knee was complaining loudly. Bringing my camera along was an afterthought but it turned out to be just what I needed. It provided me a new lens for viewing the day. Before I knew it, I was entranced by all the beauty around me.
I think taking photos helps me practice something the Positive Psychologists have identified as “savouring”, a practice that sustains wellbeing. Practicing savouring is a big shift for me, a person who once was told by her spiritual advisor that she had to learn how to sit quietly in her own garden, savouring it, rather than weeding. She offered me the observation that “other people take the time to smell the roses you plant”. These make wonderful metaphoric statements but sadly they are too true.
In my youth I was very in tune with the beauty around me. We lived on a lake and played in the woods. We had a pine grove and lots of birches from which I made ‘indian bracelets’. We roamed freely in our combined backyards, playing from dawn to dusk in the fields, meadows, woods and lake. It was a great environment for letting imagination roam free until “Olly, Olly Infree” or Mrs. Cunningham’s bell.
My mother was a panentheist. We didn’t know that as the name for what she believed, she just taught us the spirit indwelled everything. She talked about the natural world as a living animate Presence. We learned to talk respectfully with the spirits of animals, plants and the mineral kingdom. She told us about fairies, elves, sprites, and wood nymphs and that we were in their kingdom in the natural world and needed to be mindful of this at all times.
Then I grew up and no longer lived in the natural world. I lived in apartments in a city, traveled in airplanes, stayed in hotels, worked in corporate meeting rooms…no fresh air, no natural light, no living things other than us humans. Bit by bit, that natural sense of wonder was deadened. Like so many, I became so busy with the stuff of life that I never noticed the world around me. In fact, I often ate so fast that I didn’t experience the food I ate. No wonder I felt empty, hungry and dissatisfied. Satiation comes from savouring life not rushing through it mechanically.
Paying attention is the key to savouring. I need practices that slow me down so that I can be present or conscious in the moment. Even trying to remember to say a prayer before I eat is challenging. For forty years I’ve struggled with maintaining a daily prayer and meditation practice. I can put together a stretch or weeks or even months and then something distracts me. The same is true for any exercise routine…starts strong and then fades.
I’ve read a lot of the literature on habits, willpower, and lasting change. The metaphor of the rider and the elephant that the Heaths write about in Switch rings true for me. Unless I get the elephant to buy in to the rider’s plan, no change will happen. So finding ways to engage the elephant is key to developing a practice that will be maintained long enough for a change.
I think taking my camera on my walk may be one of those keys to capturing the elephant’s attention. You see, taking pictures has become fun and meaningful now that I can use the images in writing and art projects and social media. Photography used to either overwhelm me or I couldn’t see the reason to keep pictures of people I no longer knew and landscapes I didn’t remember. Now it becomes the inspiration for stories I can tell.
Thinking about what I might like to shoot causes me to see more dimensionality in the natural world around me. Today I was fascinated by how trees get hollowed out by insects, weather and human inflicted damage…yet they are still strong and flourishing. (I know there’s a metaphor there somewhere!) I looked at the stones in the embankment for the dam and saw all kinds of interesting lichens, patterning their surfaces. I saw the surrounding runoff eddies and life teeming in each one. And then there were the big, puffy clouds, reflected in the water. The lily pads and the trash bag, the stone walls falling down, pine needles in the cracks, the elegant form of pokeberries, all shapes and sizes of weeds, weathered wood and BUGS!
Three hours later I returned home, tired, sweaty and limping. But my day was transformed! I was filled with wonder and beauty and Life was Good!