The autumn morning shimmers bright and blue, warm enough that I don’t need the light jacket or linen scarf that I set out with. Seated on an old wooden bench, its contours and surface worn grey from years of exposure to the coastal elements, I am a creature contentedly bathing in sunlight and an ocean breeze.
Just half an hour ago I was comfortably ensconced in my small writer’s cottage, appreciating the sunny morning through the wide front widows, savoring my ritual pot of morning tea. Truthfully, I was avoiding the work of writing an article for an online publication, feeling stymied and uninspired. Then the knowing part of me whispered, prodded, go walk the shoreline trail. I knew that going outdoors and walking, barefoot, would not only realign my entire perspective but also give me words for the post—to say nothing of shifting my biochemistry and nourishing my wild soul. In less than ten minutes, I was out the door with my small day pack, tea cup washed and placed on the bamboo drying rack, and two English Whippets looking dejected at being left behind.
I am terribly fond of this spot where I now sit and write, just south of town and easy to reach, yet tucked away from the tourists. The weather-worn bench feels like an old friend of mine, a fine place to watch the ever-shifting waves not ten yards from my feet, observing noisy white seagulls and California brown pelicans, even the occasional sea otter floating on its back amid tangled ribbons of brown kelp. I have perched here in all sorts of weather and moods, resting for mere moments or the better part of an afternoon, entranced by the soul-stirring beauty.
It has been a week of travels, of world violence, and a lingering sense of grief for a place I have lived and loved. The City of Lights, dear Paris of my heart. Feeling tender, I am grateful to be home at my little sanctuary, nurtured in body and spirit by familiar surroundings and the simple rituals that comprise my daily life: greeting the morning outdoors with bare feet on the earth, feeding the birds, sweeping the deck of cypress needles, a pot of English tea and morning writing by the front windows, the smoky scent of resinous piñon incense, walking the dogs through our tree-filled neighborhood, puttering in the kitchen to soft music as I construct a meal of fresh ingredients for supper, candlelight in the evenings, a nourishing book.
It is a quiet, hand-fashioned life lived deliberately. Still, the heart grieves for the places rocked by violence and lives torn apart. It hurts and bewilders. Sometimes it seems like my heart is large enough to hold the entire world and its suffering; other times it feels that it cannot take one more measure of sadness.
I cannot mend a broken, angry, misguided world. I can only attempt to open my heart and senses more widely and turn toward the things that are beautiful—like the reddish orange and black butterfly that flutters nearby, erratically navigating the ocean’s breeze. The churning foam of sapphire waves in a timeless symphony of elemental music. The crumbly cool earth beneath my bare soles. The rusty tint of the fleshy ice plants, the ground-hugging succulent perennials everywhere around where I sit. Here, now, welcome the beauty.
It’s a dance, this. Leaning into the heartache—whether that of the world or our own lives—allowing ourselves to experience the grief deeply, but also turning toward beauty and goodness. It is holding the tension of opposites, standing outdoors in the pale dawn with outstretched arms, a rising sun in one open hand and setting moon in the other.
What I know deep inside is that each of us has something to bring and offer to the ‘more-than-human’ world, something that emerges from the soul. The journey of a lifetime is discovering what that gift may be, its curious shape and many facets, and then finding ways to give it forward with abandon. Without shame. At moments I feel that I fail miserably, or fall far short of what I wish I could accomplish and share, and I find myself wrapped in a shawl of disappointments and silken blues.
Then I step outside and remember, for my eyes and heart always turn toward beauty, however humble and small. I marvel at the purple flowering sage illuminated in morning sun, calling me near. Or a snowy jasmine blossom. The fuzzy black and yellow caterpillar inching along the fence. The hum and flash of an emerald hummingbird. The iridescent gleam of sunlight on the thorax of a large black beetle. A humble green weed or dandelion.
Often the most ordinary, simple things are the most beautiful.
So few of us are paying attention—really noticing what is around us. And even fewer heed the whispers of their wild soul, that core essence that seeks ever to expand, to be in communion with something much larger and timeless. Or simply the sensuality of this fleeting moment.
Seated on the weathered oceanside bench, my senses drink in the mélange of colors, scents, tastes, textures, feelings that enfold me. I’m almost drunk on the beauty here, and if not intoxicated, most definitely ‘under the influence’ of wild Nature at the edge of a continent.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
There will be struggle and doubt, grief and loss. We will forget, remember, and forget again. It’s simply part of the journey.
Soon I will lay aside my trusty old fountain pen from Paris, the notebook too, and simply sit for a while as the briny air and flashing sea seeps deeply into my soul, nourishing me to the core. Then I will return to my little house, open the red front door wide to the late morning and day, welcoming the chatter of little birds and a soft breeze whispering in the trees, and go about my work—striving to offer some small measure of beauty to the world.
It is good and right to shed tears for the world, I think, but may we weep also for its staggering beauty. Everywhere. And if you cannot find beauty in what surrounds you, go in search of it—or create it with your hands and heart, and then give it away selflessly. Freely. Madly. Even if it’s just a song. A poem. A story. Perhaps a garden. Or a simple supper for your beloved.
Heal the heart by finding and offering beauty. And kindness. Gratitude, too. We are only here a short while, after all.