Sunday, February 1, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Beauty

Throughout 2015, I am going to do "Spiritual Practices A to Z" based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. There is a list available of spiritual practices that are from A to Z. Some letters have two practices, but the majority have one.

I am choosing to focus on one spiritual practice for two weeks, and then move onto another one. There are quite a few different ideas - from reading, watching movies, listening to music, looking at artwork, journaling, and spiritual exercises.

So, for the past two weeks, I have focused on the spiritual practice of beauty.

Spiritual Practice: Beauty
Enhances: Simplicity, Pleasure
Balances/Counters: Clutter, Habitual Life

The Basic Practice

As the Spiritual Practices website says, "The Navaho blessing 'May you walk in beauty' catches the essence of this spiritual practice. Beauty is both a path you travel and what surrounds you on the path. In the splendor of the Creation, we see its outer forms. In morality and benevolence, we recognize its inner expressions.

Purple Log Pathway
A pathway of logs painted purple.
Taken on May 20, 2010 at  
Franconia Sculpture Park.

"Start this practice with the assumption that beauty is everywhere just waiting for you to notice it. Allow yourself to feel its effect upon your soul. Some experiences will stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. Others will be more subtle but equally sublime. Then make your actions reflections of the beauty all around you."

Shadow on a Rock
A shadow on the road.
Taken on June 1, 2008.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Clutter gets in the way of beauty. If we have too many things and tasks in front of us, we may not notice what is beautiful about them. The contrast is simplicity; by paring away excesses, we make an opening for splendor.

Buckets and Shoes
A simple part of a home in Pella, Iowa.
Taken on April 29, 2009.

Routine and rigid thinking also restrict our appreciation of beauty. If we are stuck in a rut, we never discover the refreshment waiting just around the corners of our daily schedule. If we have a narrow understanding of aesthetics, we are limited in our ability to recognize beauty's varied manifestations.

Beauty is startling, stimulating, and soothing. Try this practice when you need to be pulled out of your habitual way of seeing and being. Its cultivation produces pleasure.


The Buddha taught that morality is the true beauty of a human being, not one's physical appearance or outer adornments.
— Joseph Goldstein in Transforming the Mind, Healing the World

Another Amish Home
Clothing hanging outdoors to dry at an Amish home.
Taken on August 24, 2012.

To recognize, appreciate, or create beauty is to bring gladness into life.
— Paul Brunton quoted in Meditations for People in Crisis edited by Sam and Leslie Cohen

Sophia laughing...a typical look
Sophia on August 9, 2007.

It's the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us.
— Joan Chittister in The Psalms

Olivia Swinging
Olivia swinging in the backyard on
September 29, 2007.

Show me the goodness,
the beauty,
the kindness
in everyone I meet.
— Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in The Gentle Weapon

Sophia Reading Papa His Favorite Book
Sophia reading my dad his favorite book 
when he was a child on August 23, 2010.


Kent Nerburn, who believes that beauty nourishes the soul, wrote a collection of stories in Ordinary Sacred: The Simple Beauty of Everyday Life. I enjoyed reading this book of  spiritual teachings about the simple beauty in everyday life, and wrote a review which included many ideas from it that I wanted to remember.

I also read The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C. M. Millen. The book is about Theophane, a young monk who lived at a monastery in the mountains of Mourne, Ireland, during the Middle Ages.

Theophane is out of step with the other members of this community of scribes who spend their long days hunched over the Bible and other religious books they are copying. He feeds the birds from crumbs left over from his meal.

Something that stood out was a small passage about how when "...he open the door a breeze kissed his brow and removed every trace of Theophane's frown. With every step forward he felt less alone - each scent and each sound seemed to welcome him home."

That statement is reflective of how I often feel when I take the time to be outdoors and simply relax. It's a connection to a place that feels like home...a place where I'm comfortable and enjoying spending time.

He continues: "What a lovely sound: the wind against the elm making music for me! What a lovely song of the gray blackbird as she claps her wing! It is lovely writing out in the wood. It is a humble, hidden house for good."

What I also found interesting was the different plants that, when boiled, will transform the water into beautiful colors: "Weld blooms bring orange, cabbage leaves, green. The more madder I get, the redder it seems. The buckthorn turns golden, while woad leaves turn blue, and bilberries spill very bright violet hues. And from the wee crocus such a a strong yellow shade."

As Theophane would be gardening and harvesting the plants for the colors they would produce, the "best yields of all, for Theophane's part, were the peace in his heart and the joy in his heart."

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane pays tribute to the Theophane's reverence for nature, his love of beauty, and his use of imagination to find his own true calling.

A third book that was recommended is Living the Japanese Arts & Ways - 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty by H. E. Davey. I just received this book a few days before the end of the month, so haven't had time to read it.

Basically, the book focuses on the five central attributes at the heart of the Japanese Arts and Ways: harmony, asymmetrical balance, artlessness, impermanence, and unity with the universe. These are all evident in bonsai, yoga, calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebana, and the martial arts. The author discusses 45 concepts of the Japanese Ways, many of which have Taoist roots. I'm looking forward to reading this book.


Girl With a Pearl Earring is an artistic film that tells the story behind one of Jan Vermeer's most known paintings. It reveals beauty in its many guises — in the unspoiled beauty of a young girl, in the artist's fascination with light, and in the pleasures of the senses.


Joe Cocker's pop song You Are So Beautiful is a simple testimony to the power of beauty. As the Spiritual Practices website says, "The lyric repeats the title and says little else. Still, there seem to be layers of feeling behind the words. Cocker uses his distinctive voice to convey a palpable yearning not only for the object of his desire but for beauty in general. Listen especially for how his voice cracks on the final phrase."

I listened to the song and watched a video on YouTube. The images shown were women and men who were young and fit. In essence, just exterior beauty.

Mom, Dad, Girls, and Ruth
Sophia, Ruth (who was our first Brazilian exchange student), 
Mom, Olivia, and Dad on June 4, 2009.
Mom and Dad invited us over to enjoy lunch together.

As the song continued, images of my parents, the seniors with whom we volunteer, and people in my life came to mind.

Dorrinne and Annabelle
Dorrine and Annabelle making a strawberry pie 
at the nursing home on February 9, 2013.

These people, to me, represent beauty. None of them has that perfect shape or size; or are young. All had or have the beauty of years and wisdom...and the generosity of spirit and kindness.

Conversely, when I think of Sophia and Olivia - at only 14 and 12 years old respectively - their beauty is both exterior and interior. What radiates from both of the girls is what I admire most in everyone - a spirit of kindness.

Olivia dressed up as St. Lucia. 
She visited seniors on December 12, 2014,
who were spending their first Christmas in the nursing home 
as well as some seniors who make a point of 
always visiting when we go there, like John.

 They are so giving with their time and skills, and they have made such a positive impact on others.

Sophia playing the harp for 25 seniors at the nursing home 
on December 22, 2014.

These are the qualities that I think of when I think of beauty.


Georgia O'Keeffe - One Hundred Flowers is an impressive collection of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of enlarged flowers. Here are huge blossoms — the originals are up to 6 feet tall — filling the canvas. I'm still waiting for this book from the library, and am looking forward to seeing the images in it.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

The sight of a vibrant red (or substitute the color of your choice) today is a cue for me to notice something beautiful in my environment. 

I didn't use this cue during the two weeks that I was focusing on this spiritual practice, but I want to remember it as something to use at some point.

When I see a stunning sunset, I am reminded to cherish beautiful experiences.

This is easy to do when living in the country. Our view is of open land to the west so the sunsets are often amazingly beautiful.

Sunset on December 23rd
A beautiful sunset with differing shades of color
Taken on January 8, 2008.

When I growing up, my family lived on a lake. The back of our home faced west, so often times at dinner and after dinner, we would enjoy the setting sun. My dad loved to capture the beautiful sunsets on his camera. After he died, I developed the film on his camera. The last photograph he took: a sunset. An absolutely stunning sunset.

When I encounter someone in need, I vow to express the beauty within me with an act of service.

During the last part of January, Sophia, Tia (the volunteer director at the nursing home), and I worked on the Music & Memory program. We spent a tremendous amount of time with training back in October, and then setting up the program during December and January. Our goal was to launch the program on January 23, 2015, and we did.

The Music & Memory program is for seniors who have Alzheimer's Disease or dementia. The nursing home received a grant to pilot the program with ten seniors. Each one we have uploaded music that we think they would enjoy listening to based on what their family shared with us and/or what we know about them.

Almost immediately when the seniors heard familiar songs, their demeanor changed. Smiles broke out on their faces.

Philip - who normally is asleep each time I see him - 
was alert and smiling when listening to the music.

The expression of pure joy and deeply feeling the music was so evident.

Annabelle listened with joy as the songs
resonated with her spirit.

For others, concentrating on each song and being drawn into another world in which they were calm and relaxed was rewarding to see.

Ollie and his wife spent time together while 
Ollie focused deeply on the songs.
His wife said she could tell he was enjoying 
what he was listening to on the iPod.

Being able to be part of this program and bring it to seniors who need it and would appreciate it, was truly a gift. I feel so honored to be able to be a part of it.

Practice of the Day

We all share beauty. It strikes us indiscriminately....There is no end to beauty for the person who is aware. Even the cracks between the sidewalk contain geometric patterns of amazing beauty. If we take pictures of them and blow up the photographs, we realize we walk on beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us.
— Matthew Fox in Creation Spirituality

To Practice This Thought: Describe the most surprisingly beautiful thing you have seen today.

When I went out to fill the horses' water tanks, Bailey (the horse) came into the barn to watch me. As I was putting a small bucket on a hook on the wall, she stood behind me and rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel the weight of her head on my shoulder and feel her breathing.


As the water was filling, I looked into her deep, brown eyes and looked at her thick, black coat. She's such a beautiful horse. I think of when she joined our family and how nervous and skittish she was because of where she lived prior to being rescued and going into foster care. She's so trusting now...and that is something that I find equally as beautiful about her.

Spiritual Exercises

Beautify your home. The Spiritual Practices website said, "Start by clearing out any clutter and things you are not using. Affirm your commitment to simplify your life by giving away or discarding at least one excess possession. Then choose one area of the house to give special attention. Perhaps you will clean and polish the wood furnishings or scrub all the tiles. As you are working, admire the textures, colors, and structure of each item."

I focused on the mudroom, kitchen, downstairs bathroom, dining room, and living room since these are the first rooms that you see when entering the house. After spending a considerable amount of time putting things away in cupboards, washing the dishes, sweeping, vacuuming the floors, and thoroughly washing off all surfaces - everything looked so much better.

We finally donated six bags of items that were waiting to be brought into the thrift shop. Doing this freed up quite a bit of space which was nice.

Book Excerpt

I read Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back by Brooks Palmer, and did a review.

In addition, the Spiritual Practices website included an excerpt from the back of Palmer's book that showed many ways to get rid of the clutter in our lives. Here is an excerpt on beauty which encompasses the process of letting go of things:

• Remember that nothing is sacred except you.

• If it doesn't fit anymore, physically or psychologically, let it go.

• Take the items that you are going to review out of their space and move them to another room, or outside, so you can get a fresh perspective.

• If you hesitate, trying to decide whether something is worthwhile, it's clutter.

• If you haven't used it in a year, it's clutter.

• If you find yourself defending the object because of how much it cost you, it's clutter.

• If the item makes you feel out of sorts, it's clutter.

• Always remove from your home what you know to be clutter. Otherwise, it will continue to detract from your life.

• No clutter is labeled CLUTTER. Clutter is invisible. It was put in its location subconsciously. That's why you have to ask if each thing is truly helpful to you or if it's clutter. Sometimes the most cherished thing is clutter. If it's not useful to you now, toss it.

• People can be clutter. Be honest in your relationships. If knowing someone diminishes you, s/he is clutter. You can speak honestly with him/her and see if s/he can change. If not, you can just let him/her go.

• Donate or give away gifts that you don't like.

• Feel good about the process of tossing, and avoid the guilt. Advertisers taught you that things are more valuable than you. They were wrong. You are right.

• Keep the things that feel alive to you. Things have either a living or a dead essence. When you clutter bust your life and home, you will very quickly become aware of the difference, and you will drop the dead things into the trash can.

• Be ruthless. Clutter will try to trick you. Question everything.

• First impressions are always correct. If your first feeling is that the thing is clutter, it is. No dumpster diving.

• Your activities can be clutter. I guarantee that something that you are doing in your life now is clutter. You may be thinking that your value is determined by the activities in your life. That is untrue. You are already valuable! There is no need to prove anything. Those days are over. Ask, "What makes me happy?" Whatever is left over, toss.

• Any piece of clutter could be the thing that stands between you and your happiness. Nothing is too small to be disregarded. Every piece of clutter keeps you from rolling down the freeway of your life with the windows open and your favorite songs playing, with you singing along.

• Toss the trophies, the things that you own only because they are "valuable." Anything you own to impress others is a waste of your time. No one cares.

Journal Exercises

• For one week, or seven entries, describe and react to beauties: (1) a beauty experienced in childhood, (2) a beauty experienced at school or work, (3) a beauty in nature, (4) a beauty in your home, (5) a surprising beauty, (6) something most people consider to be beautiful, (7) something few people consider to be beautiful.

I did this exercise and thoroughly enjoyed it. Each prompt brought out different memories and things that - in some cases - I had forgotten about. I'm so happy I took the time each morning for a week to reflect upon and write about these beautiful things.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

The following questions and prompts are ones that I would like to reflect on at some point. I didn't have the opportunity to do that during the past two weeks.

• In German the word "beautiful" is related to shining. A beautiful person is one whose inner brilliance permeates his or her entire being. Tell your family or friends about your most memorable encounter with a person who was shining.

• Share a story about a beautiful place that comforted, restored, or inspired you.

• Recall a time when a work of art revealed to you the intrinsic beauty in something you had considered ugly or disagreeable. What does this experience reveal about the nature of beauty?

• Did your parents encourage your appreciation of beauty? What did they do? How is this quality honored in your present home?

Household, Group, and Community Projects

Have a make-over. First, think about what would make you feel more beautiful: a haircut, a manicure, different make-up, a new outfit? 

On January 15, 2015, after a couple of years of growing out my hair, I was ready to donate to Children with Hair Loss. I went to a new stylist who specializes in make-overs for women over 40 years old. The first step was to cut off an 11-inch ponytail to donate.

Taken on October 22, 2014, 
at William O'Brien State Park.
By the time I went in for the makeover, 
my bangs were below my eyebrows, 
my hair a bit longer, and I looked very tired.

Once that was done, it was time for shampoo and conditioning my hair. The stylist even did a scalp massage which was so relaxing.

Next, it was onto something that I had thought about, but had never done in my 48 years of life: waxing. I had basically my whole face waxed with the exception of my forehead, nose, eyes, and lips. Everything else was fair game. Although it was uncomfortable, it certainly wasn't as painful as I envisioned. My face feels like it did when I was much younger - so smooth.

My eyebrows were "cleaned up," but she said there wasn't much to do. Apparently I had a nice shape to my eyebrows and not that many stray hairs.

Next came the makeup application and lesson. As my skin has aged, the products that I used in my 20s aren't the same things I should be using now. So, I've been wanting to do this for many years now. The stylist ended up using mineral makeup which I've heard of, but have never used. After applying it, it is set with a light mist of water.

Since I wanted a more natural look that didn't take a long time to apply, she concentrated on my eyes. By far, when I look at pictures and what people have noticed since the makeover are my eyes. It takes no more than 5 minutes to put on the eyeliner, shadows, and mascara - but a what a difference the right colors and application can make.

The last step was the haircut. I had come into the salon thinking that I would leave with a cut below my shoulders. However, the stylist said that if I did that then I would wake up the next day looking basically like the same person. So, I said that I trusted his judgment and to create a style that he thought would look best.

More inches came off my hair so that it is now above my shoulders, and has layers and no bangs. It is a substantial change and one that certainly has surprised people when they see me. It has been a good 20 years since I had hair this short, and a good decade since I haven't had bangs.

After the makeover on January 15, 2015.

This process has been uplifting, liberating, and inspiring. It has changed my attitude and made me happy that I took the time to care for myself. The four hours that I spent at the salon were pivotal in so many positive ways.

Organize a community beautification project for a local park, school yard, street, or highway. Pick up litter, trim the grasses and bushes, plant flowers, or arrange rock gardens. 

In May, the 4-H club that I lead will be planting flowers at a local historical society. The club also is waiting to hear if it received a grant from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation. If it does, it will provide the opportunity to our 4-H club to do quite a few community service projects that relate to flowers, flower gardening, and container gardening from April through September 2015.


Rita said...

Wow! A ton of information! I do want to see that documentary and have it in my queue on Netflix. Music reaches us in unexpected places.
Love your makeover! I haven't worn makeup for over a decade. You look great! But then, I think you looked so pretty before the makeover, too. But the no bangs looks good on you. Very good style.
May you have a beautiful week. I will think of Bailey's head on your shoulder and all the people you love who are so beautiful. I know what you mean. :)

Michelle said...

A beautiful posts with photos that don't even need words! Amazing