The Spiritual Practice of Noticing Beauty

I spent a lot of time looking at trees this winter. When out walking, I paid attention to them. I watched their branches weaving intricate patterns as I passed beneath them. I marveled at the solidity of their trunks rooted firmly to the ground, and the power of their branches reaching gracefully toward the sky. I admired the occasional leaves that clung tenaciously, dry and withered, to the place where they had thrived during the lush summer months. How they withstood the blustery wind, thrashing rain, and frigid snow when most leaves had jumped ship long ago, I’ll never know.

This was how I survived the winter. By noticing the beauty in the world around me.

I’m not a big fan of winter. I’m not a winter sports kind of gal. I’m naturally cold-blooded – my hands are like icicles even on the hottest of days – so winter feels exceptionally cold to me.

And on top of that, winter over the past few years has been tough. It has signified times of difficult transition. Times of questioning. Times of waiting. Times of uncertainty, unknowability, uncontrollability. Winter hasn’t been the happiest seasons for me, recently.

So I decided that this year would be different. I wasn’t going to let winter get the better of me. I asked for snow shoes for Christmas so I could walk in all kinds of weather, and I picked up some ice cleats to wear when the roads got slick. I kept walking on a daily basis.

And, through attending to the world around me, I found that I resented the season less. In fact, I began to – dare I say – enjoy it. I developed an affection for the specific beauty of winter. Bare branches next to open sky became something I treasured.

***

Now, it’s April, and spring has finally sprung here in New Jersey. I look around me and drink in the colors and fragrances, and I delight in the young, green leaves now adorning the same branches that I watched so avidly over the winter months. There’s no doubt about it – I’m immensely happy that spring has arrived. But this year, I don’t have the same sense of enormous relief that I’ve felt in the past. This year, spring is another beautiful season. Just another gorgeous time of the year to appreciate the wonder of creation.

In theory, I believe that we can always find beauty in the world, no matter where we are, or what the landscape, or what the weather. In Psalm 19, the skies proclaim the glory of God – they speak without words, yet their voice goes out to the world. There are no limits to the grandeur of creation. All we have to do is lift our eyes, and pay attention. But the reality is, this doesn’t always come naturally. It takes practice.

This year, the spiritual practice of noticing beauty helped me to conquer winter.

And… spring is still pretty darn amazing.

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