So, as you may have guessed, I’m all up in studying and reading and having moments with highlighters and Post-It notes, much to my total delight. However, between my school and my kids’ school, it’s nothing short of crazy-town over here. I cannot keep up. I can’t describe how many e-mails I get between all three of us, not to mention the stuff related to the house, dental visits, doctors visits, hair-cutting, etc. I’m sure this is no surprise to most of you, particularly if you have or have had school-aged children.
Remember the good old days of the 70s and 80s, when there was no Internet or email and nobody could get in touch if they didn’t get you at home, able to answer the phone still attached to the wall, a cord about 3 feet long? Yeah. I miss those days.
But….let’s move on to more interesting topics, namely all the fascinating stuff I’m exploring in all these counseling courses. I seriously write in the margins of my books: blog…blog….blog. There is so much to talk about, explore and meander through the meanings of that I am overwhelmed into nothingness. It’s as if there is so much to write that I can’t write at all.
I know. I like excuses as much as anyone else.
So…in defense of beauty?
Here’s how it went: I was reading a chapter on Existential Psychology (I know; I was excited, too). At the end of the chapter, this exercise was given:
Look at this list of values and identify which values are important to you. Then, figure out your top three values and rank them as such, 1 being most-important and so on.
List of Values
Achievement, Beauty, Career Success, Child Rearing, Creativity, Fame, Friendship, Health/Fitness, Helping Others, Independence, Learning/Knowledge, Love/Romance, Nature/Outdoor Activities, Order, Possessions/Wealth, Power, Prestige/Admiration, Security, Spirituality and Variety/Excitement
Whew. That’s a lot of values.
I did this exercise myself and then asked my husband to do it. He was much more thoughtful about it. I took a more gut-reaction take on the whole thing and had it done in under 5 minutes. He pondered.
My top 3 values were:
I was a little disappointed that my top value wasn’t helping others or child rearing, but I think these exercises are only helpful if we’re honest, so I was honest. A few years ago, after reading Essentialism, I sat and thought a lot about my values, my priorities and where I find most meaning. I thought about family life, nature, volunteerism, etc. In the end, my answer always seems to be learning. This, for me, encompasses child-rearing, marriage, work, school, nature, helping others, etc. But in order for me to thrive or feel engaged in any of it, I have to be learning. That matters to me more than anything else.
I’m not exactly proud of that. I wish I could say that motherhood was where I got my bucket filled or that helping others in the form of volunteerism is what got me out of bed in the morning.
It’s hard to be truthful with one’s self.
Where does beauty come into all of this?
Well, I was cleaning the kitchen after doing this exercise. I was pondering my husband’s top value: security. I was thinking that neither of us put beauty at the top of our lists, and I was thinking that it’s strange because I buy skincare products and think about micro needling and spend a fortune getting my hair colored, so obviously I care about beauty. I spend a lot of time and money on it. Was I lying to myself about it not being a top-three priority?
Then, I began thinking in the broader sense about beauty. Beauty isn’t about make-up or physical appearance. I am no-joke stunned almost every night by the sky. I can’t believe how beautiful sunsets can be. I love beauty in writing. I can sit with a Hemingway novel or read the Russians and love it not for the story, per se, but for the beautiful way Hemingway can turn a phrase or describe a scene or capture dialogue.
In The Old Man and the Sea, in a scene describing arm wrestling, Hemingway writes, “He decided that he could beat anyone if he wanted it badly enough and he decided that it was bad for his right hand for fishing. He had tried a few practice matches with his left hand. But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it.” (p. 71)
Does it get better than that? That last sentence tells us so much about the old man. His left hand had always been a traitor.
Ugh. So good.
I love the beauty in art.
I love beauty in so many forms beyond the application of mascara or the whittling of thighs or the color of nail polish chosen for a special event. Those are the small potatoes of beauty, the trivial aspects that we focus on at the expense of all the beauty around us.
I thought about all of this as I cleaned, and I realized that my husband’s priority (security) and my priority (beauty), as I was coming to see it as my priority, aren’t at all at odds with each other but, really, the best compliment possible.
He values security and provides well for his family. He brings in the money.
I value beauty and try to provide that as well for our family, in the way we sit at the dinner able with our napkins in our laps and jazz music playing in the background and food prepared on the lovely, beautiful range across the room. It’s the way I make the kids’ beds when they’re at school so that they can come home to a tidy room. It’s the cactus I keep watering so that we have at least something green in the house. It’s the bottles of wine, the face creams, the vacations (even the rancid ones), the reading The Little Prince even when they want to read Captain Underpants.
It’s easy to think beauty is trivial or an extra, but I think that life without beauty is a slog.
What’s the point in having an education or money or ‘success’ if there is no beauty in any of it?
A friend told me recently that she watched her husband bathe her mother, who is now in decline with dementia, and I thought to myself: how beautiful is that?
It makes me wonder how I can prioritize that in life. How can I not only create more of it but, perhaps more importantly, tune into what is already here, around me?
Honestly, instead of reading People.com (low on the beauty scale), why am I not sitting with Hemingway or the Russians or a book of poetry?
Why am I not sitting outside, in this beautiful weather with a hint of fall just beginning to creep into the air?
It reminds me of the Anne Sexton poem I blogged about a while back, Welcome Morning, in which she writes:
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
I think joy and beauty are flip sides of the same coin.
What are your top three values? Have you ever sat with that question and really written it down, pondered it? Has the answer changed over time?
And finally, where do you find beauty? I’m sure it differs for everyone, but I suspect we all need it more than we realize.
That’s it for me. As I was reading the chapter on existentialism, there is a point made about creativity as part of a meaningful life - or at least that’s my interpretation. I thought about that and realized that this blog is my creative outlet, and relegating it to last-place is missing out on some of that beauty.
I hope everyone is having a lovely week, full of sunshine and strong coffee.
I’m off to write an essay on directive vs. non-directive therapy. Good times.
PS - the textbook I pulled the list of values from is cited as:
Seligman, L. & Reichender, L. (2014). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: Systems, strategies, and skills. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.