Every day, or almost every day, I post my ‘small beauties’ on Facebook. Often these are small, intimate moments of connection to nature and the wild; the light hitting a crow’s wing at just the right second to glimpse the iridescent blue of its feathers, a drift of burnt-toffee coloured autumn leaves, feeling the sun on my face on a cold day, the taste of snow, but they can also be much more human; a smile from a bus driver, a phone call from a friend, the warmth of my beloved’s skin when we hold hands, the taste of proper pie and mash, a song on the radio just when I needed it. In some ways, what the daily small beauties might be doesn’t really matter, and they will be different for each one of us. What does matter is that they are always there.
There are days when I really don’t feel like writing my small beauties; days when I feel heavy or cracked open, days when I am angry with myself and with life, days when I am feeling hurt and lost, lonely and confused, days when a deep depression hits, or days when I am just too, too tired. And yet these are the days when small beauties matter the most of all and, when I do sit and think of everything that I have seen and experienced over the course of a day, often the balance tips and I find that the day was sweet after all. It is all about where I choose to put my attention. Some people have assumed that I can find an ever-growing list of beauties because my life is simple or easy or unusually blessed and, although I do feel that I am unusually blessed in all sorts of ways, that is not where the beauties come from. They are not the words of a simple, unaware heart without a care, nor of one that turns away from what is ugly. Underneath the beauty there is a fierce rage and a determination to draw what is sweet from a life that we are so often encouraged to believe is harsh and uncompromising, a life that means nothing more than when we are next going to ‘escape’ from it all on holiday. I do not want to escape from my life; I want to inhabit it ~ every cell, every tear, every breath, every heartbeat ~ and a part of that is seeing the beauty in spite of, or because of, it all.
(the light on a winter swan's back, Kennet & Avon Canal, January 2013)
And what I have found is that, the more often I think about and write my small beauties, the more small beauties I see. Where I choose to place my focus is like a muscle that needs to be exercised and, quite soon after I began, it started to crave beauty and to notice it wherever I went. Now, on most days, it just feels easy. I know that for many it really doesn’t feel that way but, believe me, it gets better. Once a ‘giant positivity engine’ starts running there’s not much that can stop it!
(My first ever taste of proper pie and mash from a proper pie and mash shop, Greenwich, May 2012)
But why did I start in the first place? Again, I think that it began on Facebook, where there was an idea of writing ’90 Days of Gratitude’. It seemed like a nice thing to do so I began and, although it was quite nice, it felt like a pressure and, being a natural rebel ~ or naturally contrary, as some have put it ~ I came to resent it. I felt pressure to do it every day, I couldn’t remember how many days I had done and had to keep backtracking to work it out, I didn’t like feeling that I had been told what to do and then I realised that I wasn’t grateful at all! Often people suggest that I should record my small beauties every day and collect them together in a book or on a website. Whilst feeling flattered, I have always resisted that and only recently I have worked out why. It is for the same reason that I’m not grateful. I am not grateful because, as a living, heart-beating member of the community of all beings on this amazing planet, I absolutely EXPECT there to be beauties every day and I have genuinely never come across a day without them. My job is only to notice and for that ability to notice I am grateful. Beauties are not something that we need to be grateful for, they just ‘are’, and I don’t record them because, in letting them fade, I am trusting that there will always be more.
(Lock gate heart, Kennet & Avon Canal, October 2012)
One of my favourite anecdotes is of Desmond Morris, I think, who was doing a study of a group of children from their birth until the age of twenty-one. When the children were seven, it was decided to explore happiness so each was sent out with a single use camera and asked to take photographs of the things that made them happy. Most of the children took photos of their house, their family, their dog, their school, a favourite park, but the child who was the most naturally happy did something quite different. Instead of her house, she took a photo of her front door, right up close; she liked the brightness of the red paint and the way it shone in the sunshine. Instead of her dog, she took a close up of her dog’s nose; she liked how it sniffed and snuffled, she liked how cold it was to the touch, and how the wetness of it made her squirm. She took a picture of a reflection in a puddle, her shoe buckle, her dad’s ear. I may have made all of this up but, in the telling of tales, that really doesn’t matter. Here are small beauties. When we look at the vast expanse of our lives there may be things that break our hearts or make us afraid but, if we get in close so that those things become too huge to see just for a moment, we might notice the light through a bumblebee’s wing, or the laughter lines by an old ladies’ eye, and we will know that, no matter what comes, life is sweet and there will always be honey for the soul.
(Into the world of small and furry leaves, June 2013)
(Bees, fungi, and primroses in a stained glass window, Nevern, Pembrokeshire, May 2012)
(A spider's nest filled with eggs, Caversham Lock, Reading, July 2012)
(Tiny mushrooms in the Beech woods, Hampshire, February 2010)