“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.” ~ Confucius.
Before I knew my best friend very well, when we were both starting out at our new high school up in the hills of Jamaica, she had a very clear view of who she was and what she liked. She was not yet eleven, yet she seemed older than the rest of us, more mature, more in control of herself. But that isn’t even the point of this story. After her first day in the classroom, she went home and demanded that her mother find a table cloth, a vase and some artificial flowers to put on the table at the front of the classroom. Otherwise, she declared, she would not be able to learn! The room was too plain, too ugly.
She continued to bring that love of the arts into her life. It is, perhaps, the Libra in her, but I remember being blown away by her home when I finally visited her long after we both had left high school, completed tertiary education and were much older. Of course, looking back, I see that we were both still very young! But she always had a flair, a recognition of what touches would work in her space. In her guest bathroom, the mirror’s frame had floral flairs, what I would later learn was the ‘art nouveau’ look, the incorporation of natural elements in design. Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘ a design line characterized by sinuous lines and foliate forms’ (very fancy!). Her home was comfortable, but those touches gave the rooms style. It didn’t hurt that she collected art; paintings and graceful ceramics adorned the surfaces, and fresh cut flowers had replaced the silk flowers of her youth.
It may take us a while to learn our own style, or we may never learn it, but we can borrow elements from others, or copy from photos in flashy magazines. But if we are lucky we learn to ‘love the one we’re with’.
We are so fortunate to be living in a planet that is full of natural beauty. We humans are predisposed to love beauty. Studies have shown that in the classroom, teachers are more likely to show favor to the ‘better-looking’ children, regardless of academic ability. The other day I heard about a female politician years ago, the first female elected to parliament in the UK. She is remembered for her caustic exchanges with the Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill. Supposedly she told him that if he were her husband she would poison his tea, to which her replied that if he were her husband he would drink it! But what struck me most in the documentary about her, was that two different historians reported that Lady Astor was ‘beautifully turned out’. What on earth did that mean, and what relevance did it have to her abilities? We all know that women politicians are judged far more on their outward appearance than their inner strengths than male politicians. They always have to make sure they are ‘beautifully turned out’.
We all have those days when we are feeling less than our best, when the effort to keep up a certain standard feels beyond us. I have a friend who would, on such days, declare it to be ‘inner beauty day’! But although she was being ironic, imagine if we paid more compliments for inner beauty than outer beauty. Social media, being a two dimensional medium, tends to emphasize images of superficial beauty. We often don’t spend the time to read longer reports of acts of kindness, of mentoring, of those people who light up a room by their attitude, their smile, their unconditional love.
The human body, regardless of its external form, is an amazing creation. Yesterday I was half listening to a science report that was talking about the quantity of data copied every day, and how much space it takes to store it. My attention was sparked when I heard the scientist comparing it to the storage capacity and longevity of human DNA. That microscopic, double-helixed strand of information contains way more information in far less space, and can be retrieved, examined and analyzed when extracted from the tooth of a frozen Siberian mammoth that existed on earth a million years ago! In fact, they could store all of the data in the world (175 billion gigabytes if you’re counting) in one coffee cup, if it could be stored in DNA! Things that make you say ‘Wow!!!’ Even more crazy, they are actually working on storing data in lab-created DNA, using this naturally occurring information storage device as the model.
It is truly incredible when you spend any amount of time studying nature, or human biology. Living things are so well designed for procreation, survival, and efficiency. The human body has its own self-regulating mechanism (called homeostasis), designed to recognize when things are out of wack and auto-correct. For the most part, unless we have pushed our organs and systems to the brink of disease, our body will adjust for the day-to-day abuse that we heap on it. Until it breaks. If only we paid more attention to the beauty of our inner body, and stopped taking it for granted, perhaps we would live healthier lives.
Once you make the connection between how you live, how you appreciate what you have, and your own inner strength and beauty, you gain a contentment that helps you to ride out the storms of life. This can be challenging on days when the world seems determined to see how much you can handle, how many crises you can respond too, but if you are lucky you will surround yourself with people who make you laugh when you are down, or who will remind you to ‘breathe’ and recalibrate your life.
On this first Friday morning in December (the best month of the year), I hope you are feeling connected; to yourself and your inner beauty, to those whom you love and who love you, and to this glorious world in which we live. May you feel blessed to live at a time when scientists are learning from ancient DNA, and beauty can be found everywhere.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!