365 Days of Beauty

Your Invitation to Find Beauty in the Everyday, Week 2

Day 8 Peacock!

Mars trumped the city lights with its brilliance this morning. While the urban treasures shimmered bright in the distance, Mars twinkled a subtle, confident, alluring orange, and continued to hold my attention. As I gazed at it fading against the light of day, for a moment, it seemed the crickets chorused and the birds sang in celebration of its beauty. When I looked up next, I could no longer see it.

Later that morning while making breakfast, I realized I hadn’t had avocado in a long time, partly because I’m conflicted about eating them after watching the Netflix docuseries Rotten episode, The Avocado War, and partly because it is challenging to get one that is perfectly ripe, or that ripens perfectly. The one I had at breakfast was beautiful, and I thought, ‘I am eating beauty.’

The afternoon gave me excellent examples of why to stay curious to every new moment, as Andy Puddicombe encourages on the mediation app Headspace. We were at the beach and I had my swimming goggles. It was time to leave and I cruised to the shore; what treasures would I find buried in the low tide? The visibility there can be low at times, but I was lucky; I made the acquaintance of many sand-colored crabs — blink and I would have missed them. One was particularly friendly; as I stood still in the shallows, to my delight, it climbed up my right then left swim booty.

We had been going to this beach regularly since July last year — except during lockdown — and on our short walk back to our car, for the first time we saw peacocks. The first one was white. I had never seen a white peacock before. It was comfortable having humans around and happily pecked at the ground. I could have stayed there indefinitely… such encounters of the natural kind in an urban setting always captivate me. Another one, in its iridescent plumage perched atop the wall of a residential compound and made quite an impressive sight with the full moon just rising behind it. One more was ambling further down. I would have never thought I would have this experience at a desolate beach, but there they were, probably permanent residents of the nearby resort, now empty.

Beauty, in a way I didn’t expect, in a place I didn’t expect.

Day 9Good Rainbow

I stepped into an early morning with clear skies and a cool breeze. The distant lights twinkled good morning to me and the moment was perfect. My heart expanded and I blew the world a kiss.

My birthday was more than a week ago, but the birthday love was still forthcoming. At dinner, a friend held up his phone and passed me an envelope. “I want to record your reaction.” I pulled out card paper with an exquisite illustration of me as Good Rainbow. That is my playa name.

Good Rainbow ©Paul Bester

The playa are the grounds of Black Rock City where the annual Burning Man event happens and you are given your playa name by someone else. It’s a playful representation of your burn self (true self?). If you like it, you keep it. You can be offered many playa names before one sticks. My very first one stuck. (The story of my playa name warrants its own post.)

Anyway, here it was, in all its glory, with a special interpretation by my friend. It was so magical! I was touched and humbled, and felt immensely loved. In these pandemic times, there are creative ways to give someone a hug — and this one was breathtaking. The only other people who had made a drawing of me were my husband when we started dating, and my mother of me as a mermaid for one of my birthdays. (Yes, as an adult. What? I AM a mermaid; I scuba dive!)

Day 10Bliss, Double Bliss

It was the first day of the weekend and I took my friend and her apartment mate snorkeling.

Although she was water averse, my friend had been snorkeling before — with a life vest. This time I encouraged her to go without and trust the flippers. She did.

It was her friend’s first time, so we went through the basics, and in no time, she was like a fish in water. After about 30 minutes of snorkeling together, she stood up, pushed her mask up, took the snorkel out of her mouth and… gasped. The joy was a frequency that vibrated around her in every wavelength and I was its recipient.

The sea life here gathered around the wave breakers, and there could have been more, but I could only identify 10 species; it was still mesmerizing. I have had some unforgettable dives around the world, but I still enjoy and appreciate a quick snorkel at the beach around the corner, and I understood her feelings. “Breathing with your face in the water…” she said but didn’t finish. I knew: it’s unreal. An incredible, entrancing experience.

Next it was my friend’s turn and when she emerged, she had a grin on her face. “I am converted,” she said. Then both of them went for the final round together while I splashed around in the shallows, resonant with their happy feels.

After a burger lunch, for which we had worked up quite the appetite, my friend surprised me with a generous birthday gift voucher — with a caveat. “It’s for lingerie,” she said, remembering a conversation we had had months ago. We then went straight to the dive shop shop where I had bought the extra set of mask and snorkel the day before. They each bought their own. There was going to be more snorkeling.

There was more unbounded joy in the afternoon with carpool sing-along to Hamilton with a friend, masks and all… Something we had wanted to do since the movie was released some months ago. We were both obsessed!

The evening brought even more beauty — in the form of loud laughter, uninhibited conversations and mischievous gifts over seafood dinner with two of my craziest friends.

Day 11Yuhoo!

A sight for sore eyes: teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 arrived promptly to a weekend session — a 24-week scholarship program for which they had to undergo a rigorous application process.

Joining this weekend was one of the graduates from our previous cohort. I was delighted to see her. “I haven’t left home for six months,” she said, explaining that her mother and sister were in the vulnerable category and that she had opted to continue her high school program remotely. Yet, she wanted to — was elated to — volunteer her support of the new cohort. In fact, she was one of three volunteers taking turns. I knew our graduates loved the program so much they wanted a continuation of it, but an active, hands-on involvement like this exploded my heart with joy. It felt like a beautiful, long hug.

Later that morning, after their first 10-minute break, I instructed them over the microphone to return to their seats and when they didn’t, I took a cue from their animated conversation and called out, “Yuhoo!” It worked like a charm, and for the second time that morning I got a “hug” from our graduate volunteer — a heart-warming, “Oh, I’ve missed your voice.”

The day was just in its beginning and I had already experienced so much beauty, but there was more to come. In the restroom I found that there was a rip in the crotch seam of my brand-new leggings (no, this was not beautiful). Thankfully, it wasn’t visible, but I wasn’t taking any chances. My friend, and founder of the educational organization that offered this program, gave me her jacket and braved the cold air blasting from the centrally controlled air conditioner. Another “hug”.

There was still more. Our guest speaker was a manager at an international tech company and a friend who had been with us to Burning Man. Her talk “Envisioning a Post-AI, Post-Automation World” used the example of Burning Man to imagine a world of abundance where everyone’s needs on Maslow’s hierarchy were met so that they were able to self-actualize — and create beauty for one another.

As she spoke, I sent out a silent wish to our bright young: May you all be creators of beauty in your own unique way.

Day 12Rainbow Photon

A new weekday and another morning swim with sentient rainbow ripples. They played and beckoned while I breathed, kept count, and in their sparkling embrace, I was a photon, both a wave and a particle, a speed-of-light arrow in a liquid universe. And the flow and focus afterwards was invigorating, effortless. So beautiful.

That afternoon my six-year-old niece instructed her mother to leave the room so we both could continue the video call we were on — just the two of us. It was the first time she handled the technology unsupervised.

While we chatted she showed me her skills on the platform. She was confident — and proud of herself. I was delighted — and struck, once again, by the seemingly endless capacity of the young for learning.

She typed words — and short sentences — and sent them to me. I sent her some too and she read them. It was joyful! We sent one another icons, and while she was explaining how she had learned to use the platform, my laptop died. Numbers inserted themselves into my words and when I restarted it, it made a sound like it had lost its will to live.

So, our conversation was done, but just for that afternoon, and although I had to deal with a non-responsive laptop for the next several hours — yes, it was properly dead — I was already looking forward to the next time we would chat together, just the two of us.

Day 13Financiers Flows

My friend had an operation today and I planned to visit her at the hospital and take some treats too.

I wanted to bake Nutella financiers — my first — but I don’t have a mini loaf tin, so I used my Madeleine mold instead. Well, needs must — and the result was excellent. They smelled so good, I would have probably devoured a few when I took them out of the oven but for my willpower — and the gourmet salted chocolate-covered almonds a friend had gifted me last week.

The process of baking them was a great experience to have that morning. My laptop had died the day before and I hadn’t decided whether I was going to try resurrecting it or buy a new one. It was old and clunky; I’d had its hardware upgraded to its maximum capacity a couple of years ago, the frame around the screen was coming off, but until yesterday afternoon it did everything I needed it to do.

Baking the financiers was an excellent decision. Psychologist Mihaly Cziszentmihaly writes in his book Flow that in this state, “people experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement in life.” When I put the financiers in the oven I was buzzing with aliveness. The focus on pouring just half the batter into each mold, adding the Nutella, and finishing with topping the rest of the batter was like each swim stroke — precise, fluid movement. Absorbed, engaged, in the moment. Electrifying.

A couple of conversations later and it was clear — I was getting a new laptop.

Day 14Today I Played

Solitude — and the perfect stillness of a morning before sunrise. The beauty of waking before the day. No alarm. Just vitality.

I am 43 years old and today I put the demands of the day on hold — just for a short while — and after my swim I played. In the water. Like when I was 11. I twirled. I did handstands and shot back and delighted in the bubbles that tickled up my body. I held my ankles and closed my eyes, and discovered I still floated. And felt like I was on a gentle merry-go-round.

Bathed in the beauty of play for the sake of play, I headed towards my day — another in my 365 days of beauty. I hope you experienced beauty in your everyday too and stopped long enough to note it.

See you next week.

Sharing my appetite for life with you.