There’s a poem by Mary Oliver called “The Swan” that changed my life the first time I read it. It made me evaluate what I thought being beautiful meant—how I had been groomed by the media to believe it was skin-deep—and how I had trained myself to think it was always elsewhere. The last lines of the poem read:
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained
And have you too finally figured out what beauty
is for? And have you changed your life?
I promise that if you look for the beauty, even in the pain, even in what feels like the deepest pile of shit or, let’s say, a global pandemic, there will be some. And consistently noticing it will change your life because there is nothing greater than our attention. It’s truly all we have to give, so when we give our attention to actively searching for beauty, we come closer to the age-old provocation: How do I be here? Now?
Finding Beauty Where You Least Expect It
A friend of mine, the beloved comedian Steve Bridges, died suddenly several years ago. It was not beautiful. But, through his death, I met his sister Liz. I didn’t know her while he was alive. The day after he died, I stood on his doorstep, on his “Gone Surfing” doormat, and there she was when the door opened. There was a gift in the loss of him. Liz is the beauty I found. Our friendship flourished. Thank you, Steve. Sometimes we have to look really deeply and pay close attention to finding beauty because it doesn’t seem to be there. But it is. And it’s imperative that we never stop searching for it.
It’s why I created the idea of Beauty Hunting a couple of years ago. I do it every day, and you can, too. Stop as often as you can and write down (or post on social media using the hashtag #5mostbeautifulthings) the five most beautiful things to you at that moment. Playing this game will force you to seek out what is beautiful about someone when you look at them rather than thinking, I don’t like their shirt; her voice is annoying; he is an a-hole; her nose is big. Playing this game will change your life.
Try it. In a single day, imagine you are going to give a note to each person you talk to with the five most beautiful things about them. Perhaps even give them the notes. It’s profound. It will shift the way you engage with everyone around you. You will no longer be looking for what annoys you. (This is not to say that people will cease to annoy you. They may. But still, do your best to find what is beautiful.)
Seek Beauty, Not Perfection
I’ve had a lot of loss, then hearing loss and depression and all sorts of things that tried to get me to stop living. Maybe you’ve had a lot of that, too. Most of us have. I had to tell myself, “Jen, get your butt out of bed and look at people. Find what is beautiful or you will never get off that mattress; you will never quit this waitressing job that sucks your soul out with each coffee refill; you will never stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get up. Go. Look for it. It’s there.”
I did. I found beauty everywhere. People often comment on how many interesting people I meet, and all the amazing experiences and encounters I have, and how coincidental it is. Au contraire. I hunt for these experiences and people. I make it my life’s work.
I want to make Beauty Hunting a community practice, a nondenominational church for all—a world of people scouring the earth for what lights them up, for what makes them nod their heads yes, yes, yes. For what makes them never want to give up searching for what is beautiful in a world that is sometimes not very forgiving. In a world that is filled with pain and loss and sadness and pandemics and racism and war, we can actively seek beauty. And when we do, we will notice the births and the cups of really good coffee and big, wide-ass smiles and flowers that smell so good you stop in your tracks. There are all sorts of wonderful things on the surface—and also sometimes, very deep under the surface.
During this season when tensions often run high and feelings of loneliness arise among all the other things that come with the holidays, I encourage you to use Beauty Hunting as your spiritual practice, too. It won’t be perfect. Perfect isn’t beautiful. It’s the seeking of it that’s beautiful. It’s discovering all the ways beauty can coexist with pain and pandemics.
Join Jen Pastiloff for a special self-love challenge for members launching January 2021. Details to come.