Finding Beauty in Life

Sometimes I feel down. There are a variety of reasons for this: a tough day at work or school, a flare up in my relationship with my parents, lack of sleep, gloomy weather, etc, etc, etc. Once upon a time I would have solved my down feelings by spending time reading the Bible and praying, by remembering what Christ did for me and reminding myself that heaven awaits me, and that the Bible urges us to be joyful. I might even have reminded myself that Debi Pearl says that women should be cheerful no matter how they feel.

But today, I no longer believe in God, and I certainly no longer listen to anything Debi Pearl teaches. So what do I do when the world feels gloomy and my life seems shut in? Several things, actually. Four, to be exact.

First, I remind myself that family and friends matter more than personal achievements, and that I can’t be the best at everything. All I can do is try my best, and not lose sight of what’s most important. It’s easy to remember this when I come home to a happy smiling toddler, and a husband who adores me. I remind myself that while good work well done brings a good feeling, achieving some sort of idolized success doesn’t automatically bring happiness. In other words, there’s something to be said for being content, and just being.

Sometimes I think we run so fast on our treadmills that we forget to enjoy the present in all our looking towards the future. We forget to stop and see the smaller joys in life. I think children, especially young children, remind us of this. Sally laughs out loud when her daddy comes home, or when she gets to wear her rain boots to splash in puddles, and finds great joy in playing with clay or coloring with markers. These are life’s simple joys, and it’s so easy to miss them as we are hurrying to an appointment or feeling the need to clean up the kitchen or finish an assignment. But what is life but an accumulation of these simple joys? And what do we miss when we overlook what is right in front of our eyes?

 

 

Second, I focus on the good in humanity. There’s so much ugliness and pain in the world that it can be overwhelming sometimes. The number of people who starve each day, the existence of war and discrimination, the continuance of religious persecution in places like Saudi Arabia or Iran, the number of children who grow up in dire poverty…while there’s something to be said for motivating ourselves to action, dwelling on these numbers and statistics can be quite a downer. The truth is, in many ways, our world is a very depressing one. And that’s what I think it’s important to remember to find beauty in humanity.

There is beauty in love and compassion, in potential and in cooperation, and in acceptance and a yearning for freedom. There is beauty in leaders who advocate for humanity or human rights, and in neighbors who lend each other a hand. There is beauty in the potential of young children, and in the potential of human movements to make a difference. There is beauty in our desire to make the world a better place and to agitate against injustice. There is beauty in humanity.

 

 

Third, I step out into nature. I walk into a forest or a glade of trees, breathe deeply, and just soak it all in. I don’t know what it is about nature, but there’s something so peaceful and calming in it. I imagine the trees sucking up water from their roots, the leaves absorbing sunlight, the grass growing and the microorganisms in the dirt breaking down dead leaves. Everything in a given ecosystem works together so perfectly, so musically.

As I stand there in surrounded by trees, my toes curled in the grass, I imagine myself as a part of this circle of life, somehow at one with the other organisms that surround me. Someday I will die, and my body will decay and my matter will go on to become part of something else. This, this beauty, this circle of life, this will go on, with me a part of it. Thinking about this actually gives me a sense of immortality and at the same time reminds me how little my individual life matters, just a drop in the bucket. But I am part of something bigger, a life cycle that existed before me and will go on without me, a planet that fairly pulses with life and vividness. All I can do is work to improve my little part of it while I am here, and do my best not to cause harm to it or pass on problems to future generations of living things.

 

 

 

Fourth and finally, I meditate. Sometimes when my head is full of fuzz and my thoughts are muddled, the best thing I can do is clear my head, take a deep breath, and relax. Sometimes I meditate on nature, sometimes I meditate on tarot cards, sometimes I meditate on sayings I find inspirational. I find that it is helpful to push away all the difficult thoughts and focus one one thing to the exclusion of all else, or sometimes on nothing at all. I also find that mediation can help me be a better person by helping me to realized what has been going on lately and what I can do to make things go more smoothly in the future. Meditation also calms me and makes me feel more ready to take on what life has to bring.

Sometimes I think we get moving so fast in our fast paced world that we forget to stop and just be. We forget what it is like to sit in silence without a racing mind, or to simply sip tea and smell the summer air wafting in the window. We forget how to be still, or how to be calm. We forget what it is to climb off the treadmill of life and just be. And sometimes, it’s important to remember how to do that.



I think everyone develops these sorts of little ways to cope in a busy world with a myriad of demands and concerns. I think anyone, religious or not, can be down and grumpy while others in the same circumstances are happy and full of life. I think managing your stress and the weight of concerns and demands put on you is important. I think remembering what is most important in life, and finding beauty in life, and taking time to invest in yourself, is crucial. There is something to be said for inner peace, inner joy, and inner contentment. I’m not staying we shouldn’t strive to make our world a better place and grind against injustice, but rather that if we focus only on that fight we run the risk of losing our sanity.

One last thing. Sometimes it’s okay to feel down. Sometimes it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s okay to feel like life is tough. Growing up, I faced the imperative of being happy. After all, why wouldn’t you be happy when Jesus died for your sins and God himself wants a relationship with you? I remember feeling like there was something wrong with me if I felt down, like I must not be a good Christian or a good person. But the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with feeling down now and then. While you shouldn’t, of course, let down feelings dictate your life and debilitate you, there’s no mandatory rule that you must feel happy one hundred percent of the time. And that in itself is a relief.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18103745692859729289 Elly

    (Long time lurked, first time commenter)I think as I get older (!) I'm also accepting that it's ok to be down sometimes, take my time out, not just because my nearly-four-year old tells me to, and let is pass.I hope you keep blogging. I first came here from ophelia's blog and I find your posts an interesting window into a world I was unaware of until quite recently.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Elly – Excellent point! I think I'll actually add that to the end of this post…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Great post!For me, personally, I'd also add:1. Listening to some music I really enjoy. Especially if it reminds me of something or someone that makes me happy. Music is one of those things that can be strongly evocative of memories…2. I live in a city, and it has its own beauty. So even though I can't easily just take a walk through nature, I can very easily take a walk through the city. And that can be quite refreshing as well.3. Reading a good book can be very relaxing. However, it has to be more interesting than what is bothering me at that moment.4. I also am a gamer, so playing certain video games can help as well. Some video games are challenging, though, which just adds to the stress, so I have to be fairly selective when I want to actually relieve stress. But if I'm feeling particularly angry, for example, nothing's better than a romp through a very easy but very violent video game.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jason – Good reminder! You're right, music can be VERY uplifting! Of course, I need to work on my music collection, because I'm still very ignorant of popular music. I like to sing to my daughter, but I often have to make songs up because I realize the only ones I really know the lyrics of are songs like Jesus Loves Me, and I'm not going to sing that to her! But yes, music can evoke a lot of positive emotions.

  • Beatriz

    Hi Libby Anne,I just want to say that I really like your blog and reading your posts. I had never commented on any of them because I don't really have anything to add. You are an excellent writer and I find your views of life interesting. I don't think we would agree on absolutely everything, but that is the beauty of life. PS: I hope you keep blogging. I really enjoy reading what you have to say. Greetings from México

  • Meggie

    Jesus cried when a friend died. He gave us permission to be sad. Why then, does Debi Pearl say that women have to be happy all the time? Libby Anne, I know you aren't Christian anymore but do you remember what biblical source the Pearls use to justify this argument?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13220289952882875345 Discordia

    Great post! I find happiness and beauty from small things. I've struggled with depression almost half of my life, and usually it has been the small things that have made me not to give up when it's been very hard. Seeing the first butterfly after winter, sunshine, a smile, walking in the nature, kind words from someone, a funny joke, episode of my favorite TV series, a good book, a cute picture of puppies…And yes, it's perfectly okay to feel down sometimes. Sometimes it's okay to cry. While my upbringing was very different from yours, in my family crying was seen as something that was acceptable only if someone had died or if you were a small child. But as I now see it, a good cry really helps sometimes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Meggie – I'll look it up in her book later, but I'm not sure she had a Biblical definition. Basically, her argument was that a wife must behave in a cheerful manner so as to be a good helpmeet to her husband and encourage him in being a good leader, and that if she's grumpy or down she'll drag the whole family down with her. I think there was also something about if you act cheerfully even if you don't feel it you'll eventually come to believe it. Besides "always submit," "always have a cheerful heart" was like the central theme of her book. I'll look it up for you later!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11439024525253785948 Grikmeer

    Libby Anne,When I read your reply to Jason it just suddenly reminded me of the first song I ever sang. My dad told me about it, I was three years old and started singing "We Didn't Start The Fire" by Billy Joel. Looking back I find this hilarious, but the lyrics are all about the events of the cold war era, so it made my dad a little uncomfortable when I started singing "Iosef Stalin, Malenkhov, Nasser and Prokofiev" in public. :)

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/5b20d3b0-9d71-11e0-a6d0-000bcdcb8a73 Fina

    A point about living in a city, and not being able to enjoy nature:Try contemplating the achievement behind common items. A simple sidewalk is amazing in it's own way: The materials for it were gathered by giant machines that are miracles of human engineering – which required detailed knowledge and education. It was constructed by skilled, hard labor using more machines, and funded by the taxes of many hard-working people. And much more like that. It is but a tiny outgrowth of our incredibly complex society, and i am walking on it right now.You can do the same for electric light – which would seem like magic to many people who lived but a few hundred years ago. If you are taking an airplane somewhere, you are casually doing something humans have dreamed of for tens of thousands of years. Communicating with all of you via this blog, over thousands of kilometers is equally amazing.At least for me, that's always rising my spirits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12130718224295515997 Red

    I see lots of beauty in life, nature and family/friends, but…"I focus on the good in humanity"This is the hardest thing for me to do. Sometimes I can't see it through the cloud of horror that I wonder if it is even there at all.

  • http://www.ramblingtart.com/ Rambling Tart

    I'm crying as I read your post this morning. My heart is battered from yet another emotionally manipulative email from my patriarchal family. I needed this more than I can say. A dear friend introduced me to your blog today, and I will be back. Thank you for being so open and honest. You've given me the strength and courage I needed today. :-)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0154323017c1970c Verity3

    Oh yeah, the Joy Police. The allegedly "Biblical" basis is Philippians 4:8, basically an encouragement to think about good things. But then it gets twisted into "You're only allowed to think about good things." Big difference.I started listening to Elizabeth Mitchell (folk/rock) when my daughter was a baby. At one point I had to admit that it was *my* music, not hers. It just makes me happy. But now I've collected the quieter songs from several of Mitchell's CDs (one with Lisa Loeb) into a lullaby playlist, and my daughter loves to listen to it every night! :D

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04790685195479659134 Ana

    This is a very interesting theme. I grew up in a really spiritual environment, and sometimes I feel tempted to go back to those patterns: when I'm walking down the street, just noticing the people and feeling happy, religious songs come to my mind, and once upon a time I would have sung them. When I'm sad or distressed, I feel the need to pray (which for me was really pouring my heart out and letting my emotions flow, usually with plenty of tears, until I found peace and joy…yay for serotonin rushes!), so I'm trying to find another way of meditating.It's kind of hard though, because the religious rituals can be so beautiful, and it's hard to find something that touches me at the same level yet at the same time doesn't contain some kind of religious/spiritual origin…


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