I was standing on the shore as the sun set. The lake was a large blanket and the waves lapping at my feet were so small and thin they looked like someone was pulling a string under that blanket.
To my right, the hombre sky faded from blue to pink. To my left, where the sun was gently slipping beneath the horizon, the blue faded into yellow and shades of orange.
This being November, long after beach-lovers have given up for the winter, I was mostly alone. A flock of geese landed for the night, taking a break from their seasonal journey to the south.
I stood in reverence, barely able to take in so much beauty all at once. It was an embarrassment of riches – a thin place, as the Celtics say, where the sacred feels momentarily reachable through the veil.
Two thoughts landed in quick succession in my quieted mind.
First… “How amazing that the world offers up such beauty, so generously, when there is only one person here to witness it!”
Then… “But…I am a part of this beauty, not apart from it! I am not simply witness, I am part of nature. Just like the geese, I am a momentary part of this landscape.”
It took a little longer for the third thought to land. “If the natural world offers itself so generously, without reservation, and I am a part of that world, then who am I to do otherwise? Who am I to pretend I am separate? And who am I to allow my insecurities, doubts, fear, and social conditioning to get in the way of my contribution to the beauty I’m already part of?”
My eyes filled with tears. First, to truly believe I am beautiful and part of a beautiful world… that’s not a natural way for me to see myself. I have a thousand reasons why I am not good enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough to claim “beauty” as part of my identity. Second, to recognize that what I have to offer to the collective beauty of the world is unquestionably worthy disrupts the narrative that so often runs in my head.
But what if I begin to truly inhabit this belief, the same way the sun, the geese, the sand and the water do?
Not just me, but you, my dear reader. What if we embrace a radical belief in collective beauty and our part in contributing to that beauty? What if we deconstruct all of those voices in our heads that tell us otherwise, and we simply stand at the shore in reverence and humility and choose to believe we are part of what we see?
Will it change the way you do your work? Will it change the way you create? Will it change the way you show up for your friends? Will it change YOU?
This morning I had a lovely conversation with one of the people participating in our Holding Space Foundation Program who’s been following my work since my blog post went viral. She mentioned how impactful it had been to her to learn that I’d been toiling in relative anonymity for ten years before my post went viral and millions of people suddenly showed up at my website. That I continued to be faithful to the work despite how few people were noticing it early on meant a lot to her.
Maya, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you, too, are part of the beauty of this world. You can stand on the shore and know that you are making a contribution, even when nobody else shows up to bear witness to the generosity of that beauty.
And I want you to know that too, dear reader. Stay faithful to your work, to your play, to your craft, and to your love. Show up on the shore again and again and offer up your contribution. Do it generously and without apology, even when it makes sense to nobody else but you.
I can’t promise you that millions will come, but I can promise that it matters. You matter. Your craft matters. Your love matters. Your beauty matters.
I want to write something for you today, dear readers. I want it to be wise or gentle or provocative or joyful or challenging or peaceful. Or maybe it can be all of that at once – whatever you need it to be.
I want it to stir something in you, to touch a tender part of you, to make you feel less alone, to awaken your passion. I want it to sparkle with originality, to shine with inspiration, to bubble with truth.
I want my words to create a warm cave for you to crawl into, where you will feel cozy and safe. Or maybe they can be a torch that you will carry with you when you step into dark places. Or perhaps a buffet table overflowing with goodness that will nourish and delight you.
What do you need today, dear reader? I want my words to offer you a little of that.
I am sitting by my window, watching yellow leaves flutter in the breeze, hoping inspiration will land in my heart and make its way to my fingertips. I want this because I want to send you a gift, with your name embossed on it, to remind you that we are connected and there is a thread that stretches from my heart to yours. To remind you that whatever you are going through, there is another person, perhaps on the other side of the world, who’s thinking of you and wanting goodness for you.
But today the words aren’t coming. Today there is only the dappled sunlight through the leaves. Today there is a mother on the sidewalk tugging her small son behind her in a blue wagon. Today there is this cozy blanket keeping my bare feet warm. Today there is the silence of a home without daughters. Today there are geese flying over my house to their winter homes in the south. Today there are feathery clouds in a blue sky and squirrels gathering provisions for the winter.
So, today, I will sit here in this gentle moment and send you kindness that doesn’t need to be wrapped in words. I will send you hope and peace and a little of the magic I see outside my window. I will send you the courage and fortitude of the geese who have so far to travel. I will send you the joy of the little boy in the blue wagon. I will send you the resilience and resourcefulness of the squirrels gathering what they need for darker times. I will send you the peacefulness of the tree releasing its leaves to settle into the long rest of winter.
I will sit here in this sunlight and hope that some of the light will bounce off me and be reflected in your direction.
And I will hope that you, like the squirrels, can gather some of the goodness buried under my meagre words and store it up to feed you in the lean months.
Like many Canadians (and people from all over the world), I have fallen in love with astronaut Chris Hadfield in the last four months. Not only is he an exceptional human being (Canada’s first commander of the International Space Station, a gifted musician, and a gifted photographer) he brings us all back to something that many of us lost when we left childhood – a sense of wonder.
His sense of wonder was paired with his great generosity, and that’s why so many people fell in love with him. He clearly took great delight in sharing his experiences with us.
I am happy to say that I was raised by parents who, like Chris Hadfield, taught me to witness the world with a sense of delight. Every Spring, my Dad would write “frogs” on the calendar on the first day that he heard them singing. If he found a bird’s nest in a tree, he would almost certainly drag one or more of us kids out to the tree to see it. One of my favourite photos is one that he took of dandelions – what he said were the most under-appreciated flowers in the world.
Mom was the same. On lazy Sunday afternoons, we would go for drives in the countryside and explore old abandoned homes, because she was intensely curious about what was inside. Any chance she got, she would climb trees, just for the fun of it. Even in her dying days, she watched the birds at her bird feeder and delighted in the variety and beauty of each of them.
On Mother’s Day this year (our first since Mom died), my sister and I drove out to the small town where we grew up to visit the graves where our parents now lay buried. We had a lovely day together, first at the grave, and then in the park with the swinging bridge we used to play on, and in the field where we used to hunt for crocuses when Spring finally came.
Instead of the desperate sense of emptiness that we both thought the day would be filled with, there was peacefulness and nostalgia in our conversations and our wanderings. Much of the day was spent doing exactly what Mom and Dad taught us to do – finding the beauty in the world. We got muddy on the riverbank, trying to get the right angle to photograph the swinging bridge, and we got our clothes covered in dry grass and dust, lying in the field trying to capture both the crocuses and grain elevator in the same shot.
I was reminded, once again, of the power of beauty for healing and transformation. The grief was still there, but in seeking beauty, we were able to breathe hope into our lives.
In our pragmatic, goal-oriented lives, we forget to pause for beauty. “Wandering in crocus fields is for people who don’t have important things to do with their lives,” we tell ourselves.
Wrong. Wandering in crocus fields is ESSENTIAL if we have important things to do with our lives. Beauty is imperative!
In my travels in the world, I have seen people whose lives are full of wealth but not much beauty. I have also seen people who live in poverty but surround themselves with beauty. I would rather live in community with the second group of people, because they know joy, they live generously, and their delight shines in their eyes.
Last night was one of those impeccable Spring evenings when the wind calms, the sun’s setting rays are warm and golden, and the air is full of the hope of new life. I couldn’t resist wandering through my neighbourhood once again, seeking beauty and letting myself be filled with awe.
I am grateful for every moment that brings wonder into my life, and I am grateful for the capacity to witness it.
And if you still need convincing that a search for beauty is imperative, watch this short video of a 109 year old Holocaust Survivor. “I see beauty everywhere.”
There are few things that nourish my spirit more than a meditative wander through nature with my camera.
Mindful photography is for me what prayer or meditation is for others – a time to connect with the Creator through the tiniest of details on a leaf or the grandeur of the waves crashing on the coastline.
Unfortunately, in winter, I too often forget to do what I know will nourish me.
Yesterday, I remembered.
(Note: Video includes music from my friend Steve Bell.)