“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.” ~ Walt Whitman.
I am by nature suspicious of flowery speech. I have a memory of my father explaining something to me as ‘purple prose’, passages of literature that are too fulsome, too many superlatives and flashy adjectives. Mr. Google defines it as ‘prose that is too elaborate or ornate’, so my memory is fairly accurate. I find myself similarly suspicious of excessively flowery praise (purple praise?) especially when it is directed at me. Most mothers know the feeling. Whenever your child spontaneously expresses love or admiration for you, your first thought (or vocalized response) is, what do you want, or, what have you done now?
I remember meeting a new in-law, a young man who had married a family member. He seemed to be very pleasant, to have manners, to say all the right things. His new mother-in-law had other thoughts. She described him as ‘too nice too fast’. She was right. Turned out his expressions of love and commitment were cover for a different agenda, and the marriage soon went sour.
I react the same way to salespeople, to quick talking slick mouthed proponents of the latest sure thing. I often joke that I break out in a rash in response to a pitch, especially if I suspect that this new guaranteed money maker sounds like a pyramid scheme. I joke that inside my brain the spirits of my parents battle for supremacy. My mother is sharp and quick to judge, my father more generous and patient. When faced with claims that seem too good to be true, my mother always wins. I have to consciously embrace patience and compassion to exude a more open attitude. Please note that I am oversimplifying for effect. My father could be just as cynical, I suspect he just hid it under a layer of Christian brotherliness!
When it comes to presentation, I have a similar love for clean lines, for understatement. I have never loved excessively fussy décor, ornate window dressings or complicated furniture. I want my living space to be comfortable, preferring function over fashion. On the other hand, there needs to be a balance, there must be some aesthetically pleasing aspect to the space. I have a friend who has always managed to add a touch of art to everyday objects, and her home is both comfortable and a work of art. A bathroom mirror has that art nouveau look, surrounded by the flowing lines of a flower. When I visit such homes I observe and admire, and sometimes I manage to copy (although within the confines of my budget). I have become a visitor of yard sales, a forager of gently loved and preowned treasures, and now I am the curator of my own outdoor art gallery.
There is a Buddhist practice that calls for letting go of attachments, of the need to own things. This includes material possessions and wealth but can also be applied to outcomes. Suffering, they say, comes from wanting things to be other than what they are. So if I spend my time wishing I had a certain job, or income, or lifestyle, or home, that causes suffering. If, on the other hand, I view my life with appreciation, if I give thanks for my home, my job, my family even with all their ‘perfect imperfections’ I am guaranteed peace of mind and acceptance. It makes life much easier when you are not trying to make the people around you act differently, when you are not always striving to ‘fix’ them, to make them better, to help them change. It is challenging to let go, but when you realize that you are only ever responsible for your own happiness in this world, life gets easier.
This week, as we saw images of a famous and ancient landmark in Paris going up in flames, I found myself somewhat detached from the emotional responses I saw elsewhere online and in the media. Perhaps it was because I had no personal connection to the place. Definitely it was with relief that no lives were lost. But there seem to be so many more tragedies worldwide that get minimal coverage, are mentioned once and then the news cycle moves on, that the destruction of a building (no matter the age or the artwork within) pales in comparison.
I can appreciate the amazing abilities, skills and talents of those who create, whether buildings, sculptures, paintings or other works of art. My breath is more often taken by natural wonders, by mountains and rivers, by skies and sunsets, by the beauty of our natural world. If you have ever woken up on a mountain side, with cool mist lingering on the bushes, with hummingbirds dipping into brightly colored flowers, with the sun’s rays peeping over the ridges, then you have been fortunate to see a great work of art. If you have stood in a forest, pine needles underfoot, a chattering stream rushing over water-polished rocks, you have been a part of an organically beautiful master-piece. If you have sat on a beach, waves rushing in and out, turquoise colored sea reflecting a perfect sky, you have known a centuries old creation.
This Good Friday morning I am feeling the awe and wonder of the beauty of our natural world, and the variety and diversity of life upon it. As I enjoy the tradition of bun and cheese I think of those who are continuing to suffer in real time around the world. I wish for all my friends that they recognize that they have enough, and we all have more than enough to share. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!