Beautiful Medicine

Right now I’m transitioning from a life of suits and office culture to writing and creating full time.  In my efforts to do this I’ve observed that some creators actively seek inspiration, and others open their energy up so that it finds them in their daily lives.  I think the best creators can do both. So after being stuck in a monotonous routine for three years I’m training myself to do just that.  Initially I thought this meant that I needed to surround myself with beautiful things.  Not so.  Rather, I’ve discovered that it’s more beneficial to see beyond the beauty of tangible things.  It’s also possible to extract a cure for boredom, emptiness, and cynicism from one beautiful experience at a time.

“Indeed Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.” Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) [Sahih Muslim (911)]
For as long as I can remember I’ve thought of my childhood as being filled with things that titillated my senses and provided me with a constant connection between my imagination and corporeal self.  I  even told a friend of mine that I miss childhood because I was able to do what I wanted and say what I wanted without fear, which must have been the ultimate form of freedom.  Luckily, this particular friend happens to be a prekindergarten art teacher and she gave me a more plausible explanation she learned in her study of early childhood education. She said that adults tend to project memories of being carefree onto their childhood when in fact, it’s actually the least autonomous stage in one’s life and that what we really miss is our childlike naivety.

An installation from Wonder. Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Museum of Art. 

I thought about her words a lot. What’s to miss about naivety?  About pure and genuine ignorance?  I honestly don’t feel like there will ever be one answer to that question because everyone grows up differently.  But I did decide that one thing I admire about the naivety and ignorance of children is that with those traits comes a true ability to appreciate new things. Children know so little of the world that they tend to marvel at each discovery.  Also, at that point I realized something about my adult self, and it’s something I now actively seek to change:

I used to marvel at things. Then, somewhere along the way, I stopped. 

Beautiful Medicine
This is what happens when I’m bored at work.

The more I learned, the more I zapped the mystery and awe out of my experiences, and that became more and more true for me as I got older. Sure, there are people who inherently know that the way to wow yourself with beautiful new experiences is to get out there and experience them. But as simple as that sounds, I’ve observed that many people don’t.  I was guilty of that too. Between work, motherhood and school I eventually got to a point where I walked pass beautiful murals without looking up from my phone and missed art exhibits I vowed to see.

Because I was tired.  Because there’s always tomorrow.  Because money.

And though I didn’t realize it at the time, those little opportunities I was letting go of were my last stronghold between me and a fruitless existence, my last doorways to beautiful things.  And as I let go of them I gradually began to feel…well…blah.  I felt uninspired.  Mostly, I just felt off-kilter.  Looking back on those moments I now understand that by letting the beauty drain out of my world I was drawing myself away from my spiritual center and for once, I decided that the reason I felt this way wasn’t extrinsic like I’d thought.  No; this was a down spiral I was allowing to happen.

One of my pictures from the 2015 African Arts Festival in Brooklyn, NY.  All these bright colors make me happy.

I know you’re thinking, “Sheesh.  You miss some pretty pictures on a wall and you life falls apart?”

That’s not a warped way to think, though; it’s realistic.  But since I’m an mother-f-n creator it’s a big deal when I can’t soak up some art.  With that said, it makes sense to learn to appreciate the beauty in the mundane.

Luckily, by the time most reach adulthood they’ve acquired a skill that allows them to appreciate things in a way that’s more complex, anyway.  As we grow we become better equipped to dissect experiences like appreciating a model’s symmetrical face, or gazing at a canvas full of eye-popping colors. This is likely because interpretation itself requires prior experience, experiences that help us decipher the “why” behind beautiful things by using our own lens.  And I truly believe that finding the beauty in our experiences and being able to ascertain why we connected with some things more than others tells us a lot about ourselves.  It even helps us heal. But, we’re unable to do so unless we slow down and engage.  So I took on that task for myself and started by finding ways to marvel at things again, one step at a time.

Engage in retail therapy. 

I don’t overdo it, but I buy myself things that I’ve been wanting for some time.  Protecting my budget is always key, so I hit thrift stores, yard sales and pop-up shops to buy everything from trinkets to books.  If it’s under $10 and inspires a twinkle in my eye, then it’s coming home with me. The flip side to this in also important.  Sometimes a little reverse-retail therapy is needed.  If I accumulate things I don’t need they tend to lose their luster for me, so if a  friend wants to take a dress or pair of shoes off my hand I give it to them.  Then, without fail, something curious happens.  When I see that person wearing the things I parted with, those things become beautiful again, and in a more purposeful way.

Poetry festival finds.

Break out of your fitness comfort zone.

If you really want awe and inspiration I highly recommend that you climb mountains, swim in the oceans,  tunnel into caves, and tramp through the woods.  The sights I saw when I delved into each of those experiences were scary and breathtaking all at once.  But, if all of those activities freak you out too much, you could always just break your routine by walking or riding a bike to work.  Just be sure to detour through the flowers.

I went spelunking at Yankhauer Nature Preserve in Virginia.

Also–and I’m finding this practice very helpful despite how hard it was for me in the beginning– break out a mirror and marvel at your own form.  When  I do it I try not to focus on my flaws.  Instead, I take a moment to be thankful for each thing that’s functioning normally. I look at my thighs and torso, and at each stretch mark, dimple or scar, and I try my hardest to be thankful for this vessel that has endured all my trials. In that moment I remind myself that what my body does behind the curtains of my conscious thoughts is amazing.  Even as I type this, my brain is regulating my heartbeat and my skin is regenerating itself. So why not seek the beauty of my own body? It’s a perfect system, worthy of praise and awe. It’s a beautiful thing.

Appreciate art everywhere.

Amethyst quartz on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

I feel like a tourist in my own city when I go to museums, but I’ve decided it’s worth it. Some days I even feel like an amateur ethnographer, cataloging the culture of my hometown before it’s gone. I take pictures of graffiti, murals, street art, and even myself- Occasionally I bring friends, but there’s a value to doing these things alone.  I just stroll, ride, and take in some beautiful things.  When me and my son were snowed in earlier this year, I wiped the dust off my easels and took out my craft bag to make some art of my own with my son.  He actually took the shot below. It was a cloudy day, but the picture still reminds me of sunshine.  He’s getting pretty good.


I’m trying to teach him that creating, listening to, and engaging with the things that he finds beautiful is restorative and empowering.  More importantly, I want him to understand that being able to see the beauty in experiences, people, and things is one of the few things we actually have full control over.  There was a time when I mired in some negative things from my past and accepted them as the full scope of my existence; I don’t want that for him,

Then I realized that there is beauty within that pain, and the poems, songs, and other works of art I produce from it are proof that beauty is indeed medicine for the exhausted spirit and uninspired mind.

5 thoughts on “Beautiful Medicine

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