Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Finding beauty when you’re feeling beastly


“We respond with joy to the call of beauty because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart a forgotten brightness.”
John O’Donohue

Since writing my blog last week, I’ve heard several friends say that they, too, are feeling the weight of the world.

Sometimes I find it hard to tell, “Is it me, or is it the world that feels so heavy?’ (Answer: probably both.)

The other day, I felt as if I was lugging a lead weight behind me, making it hard to do much of anything. I finally made it to my writing chair for a hoped-for bout of writing, but the muse was not with me. Not to mention the internet wasn’t behaving and fixing it was draining my attention.

Suddenly, a chorus of self-defeating voices descended, with their could have/should have chorus. “You could have accomplished something today.” “You should have done x.” Then, in the midst of their laments, a soloist chanted, “And I don’t wanna do anything.”

Enough. Despite my belief that writers need to apply butt to chair, I gave up and got up. I grabbed a pad and a bunch of paper and headed out to a chair in a shady, less cultivated part of the garden. I wanted to sketch.

I didn’t care about making art or creating something good. I just wanted an incentive to sit and observe the scene, outside my cabin, which I had walked past many times.

As I sketched, trying to capture the forms, I became curious. How do you sketch a container? A branch pointing at you? The more I studied shapes, the more beauty popped out at me.

I watched how the sun was backlighting golden maple leaves. Then I studied the gorgeous, crumbling rotting logs. (I’m crazy about rotting wood.) I looked at patterns of sunlight on a nearby tree and was amused to see that the cement toad I had placed in the garden had acquired a necklace of variegated ivy.

All fascinating. And challenging to sketch.

I focused on the shadows on a stump, the curves on the fleshy hosta leaves, and the veins on the shiny, oval, salal (groundcover) leaves. Rocks were gorgeous, as were the tiny magenta flowers hanging off the fuschia bush.

The more I sat, noticed, and observed, the more my attention shifted from self-judgment into a neutral zone of observation. The more I sketched, the more beauty kept appearing.

I’ve heard it said that we see what we put our attention on. Focusing on beauty was turning my mood around.

Beauty was allowing me to be more present to my surroundings and yet feel, at the same time, transported.

I returned to the house refreshed.

I didn’t have to deny the pain of current events, but I had found a place in which to view them without caving.

Nature, so stressed by our Northwest drought and global climate change, had reminded me of her amazing resilience to keep growing in beauty.

Forty-five minutes with a pencil in hand had changed my day.  When I thought about my process, a few aspects stood out:

1) Carefully observing something outside of myself.
2) Being in nature.
3) Working with my hands or body instead of my mind.
4) Tracking on beauty.

If I hadn’t been able to sketch, I might have done this by walking.

If we become what we focus our attention on, then tracking on beauty sounds like a good plan indeed.

In sketching, my eyes had become more open and curious. I returned to the house, still sad about the world but knowing I had a new way to remember what is so good about life.

Thank you, beauty. Thank you, nature.

“When we awaken to the call of Beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.”
John O’Donohue

“If we choose to journey on the path of truth, it then becomes a sacred duty to walk hand in hand with beauty. “
John O’Donohue


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