William took these photos the other day as a part of a year-long project he’s doing at school where he’s planning to learn how to identify local trees and plants by sight. He and Penny had the day off from school (a classmate tested positive for COVID), and I made them go on a walk together. He took my phone and documented the lichen and bark and trees and the oh-so-beautiful leaves right outside our door. Thank you, William, for capturing this beauty and sharing it here today. It leads right into what I’ve been thinking: How can we find peace and beauty in our souls in a disrupted, anxious world?
I’ve been pretending lately that I’m not anxious at all. Our kids are going to school every day. They are healthy and happy. I took a writing retreat to work on a new book a few weeks ago. We have food and shelter and health. We are safe.
But I keep waking up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. I’ve had a series of unusual bad dreams. For a while my back hurt. Then my wrist. Then my hips.
I finally admitted to myself that I’m carrying anxiety around in my body and my subconscious mind whether I want to admit it or not.
There are all sorts of ways I can respond to that anxiety, especially once I admit it. I listened to a fascinating and very helpful podcast to this point about completing the stress cycle, where the researchers list all sorts of practices, including exercise, crying, laughing, hugging, and breathing. I’ve written before about prayers for peace.
Peace and Beauty
But the other way I’ve been thinking about reducing stress—or perhaps I should say—cultivating peace, is through beauty. I learned recently that cultivating a sense of inner peace or calm inexplicably prompts us to notice beauty. When our minds are at peace, we see and hear and appreciate what is beautiful. Scientists can’t explain this connection. They just know that peace allows us to see beauty.
I haven’t experienced a lot of inner peace lately, and yet the trees in the fall in Connecticut have arrested me with their beauty. The blazing red and vibrant yellow have interrupted my anxious thoughts. It’s as if these trees are jumping up and down with flags to direct me away from stress and towards peace. As if they are saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” That simple act of noticing the trees in all their glorious color forces my mind to settle and slow down. Peace allows us to see beauty, but I think the opposite is also true. Beauty allows us to experience peace.
So if you are like me—anxious, weary, frazzled, unable to summon the resources to combat stress and cultivate peace—then maybe we can be interrupted by beauty today. Maybe grace and love can come to us unbidden, as a gift.
To learn more with Amy Julia in thinking about disability and the built world and belonging:
- Anxiety and the Peace of God
- A Three-Minute Invitation to Peace
- Entrusting vs. Letting Go
- Announcing Missing Out on Beautiful, Part Two
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