Every day at approximately 3 p.m., I go on a stroll through my neighborhood. The stroll is pure in its basic and dedicated intention. I never miss it. I am there to observe every pinpoint detail about nature, catch up on my podcasts, and inhale oxygen.
It’s so interesting, what intense routine can offer. I notice, poignantly, the process of things. I could tell you, every day, the exact number of tiny purple flowers that bloom on the lilac branches. I can tell you that they’re blooming later this year because of the cold streak and that the cherry blossoms bloom from the top down. I can tell you that right in the middle of May, you begin to notice the peony leaves getting plump. I can tell you the tulips don’t have time to compete with them and start to let the sun put them to sleep.
I look forward to my walks because they give me perspective in a world, lately, that is short of context. My walks show me the Earth keeps spinning and time, despite its elasticity, does move forward. That’s how I have to find beauty in this new world. Because beauty is my tactic for holding on when times are tough. I am on a constant search for what stuns my soul straight out of commission, simply because the ripple effect of color and light gives me peace.
Beauty is my tactic for holding on when times are tough. I am on a constant search for what stuns my soul straight out of commission, simply because the ripple effect of color and light gives me peace.
Beauty, even if its a crumpled up used mask on the ground or an empty street, gives us what we need to heal.
Toni Morrison has spoken candidly in the past about the artist’s task in troubled times to document what hurts and cures. She is quoted saying, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There’s no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. This is how civilizations heal.”
We are all creative. We don’t have to make the best art we’ve ever made, write the novel, paint the masterpiece. We simply have to know that along with the sorrow and pain, there is grace. We can find it. We can make it.
I put together some tips for how we (as creatives, because we all are!!) can find fondness in the world. Whether it’s through journaling, painting, finding a new hobby—we will always look back on these things we wrote about and created and feel closer to the people we were before.
Tongen practice, known as a breathing exercise of “sending and taking” is an ancient Buddhist practice that awakens compassion. Most of all, it reverses our human logic to completely avoid suffering and search for pleasure instead. In this practice, you are challenged to breathe in disaster and sorrow and breath out what you’d rather have for the world.
I tried this on my walk the other day. I filled my lungs with pain from the sick, those who have died, and those who are still in pain. I held it all in as long as I could, letting it swirl around inside my lung walls. Then, I breathed out a healthy world of joy and reunions and hugging and (for some reason?) the color pink? This is weird, but for the brief thirty seconds I was breathing, I felt a sense of control. I wasn’t aware, before the practice, that that’s what I wanted to get out of it. But it did feel a lot like I was redirecting myself, using what had bogged me down in the world as a medicine. The practice, for once in the past two months, made me feel effective and good.
I adore this Alice Walker quote: “I love that feeling of connectivity to things blooming naturally.” She was quoted saying this in an interview on Cheryl Strayed’s podcast, Sugar Calling, when asked how she knew she was a writer. Walker said she always felt as if writing came naturally to her, like a plant would produce a twig or a bud or a flower. And she always turned to nature to seek the solace and beauty in that.
Sometimes, nature seems so obvious. Yes, we should garden. Yes, we should go on walks and enjoy the shade and the trees. But truly immersing yourself in it; stopping to look at the ridges of bark or documenting every vein of a tulip—those are the things we should be trying. We, like flowers, have such natural fixings about us. Blooming can tell us a lot about what it’s like to live and how natural it is to become.
“On Keeping A Notebook” is one of my all-time favorite essays. It’s by the wonderful Joan Didion and you can read it in her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In the essay, she writes about coming back to the things we’ve written to understand who we once were. “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be,” she writes. “Whether we find them attractive company or not […] we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.”
Documenting things helps us find a part of ourselves. They help us “keep in touch” with who we once were. . . . That’s why finding beauty in our world first comes with understanding who we are in it.
Documenting things helps us find a part of ourselves. They help us “keep in touch” with who we once were. We write them with the full intention of others never gaining value. That’s why finding beauty in our world first comes with understanding who we are in it.
A great way to find beauty in our new world is to simply leave the present. History books, ones that tell stories of how we’ve conquered hardships in the past, will help us see more clearly in the now. Particularly, I’ve heard reading books about pandemics are helpful because they remind us we’ve faced deadly plagues for millennials.
Here are a few books about pandemics for context: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (Barbara Tuchman), Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It (Gina Kolata), The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Steven Johnson).
If the pandemic talk stresses you out, here are a few historical fiction and non-fiction books I particularly love: The Things They Carried (Tim O’ Brien), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand), 11/22/63 (Stephen King), Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood) and The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett).
Writer’s Note: Be sure to buy from your local bookstore!
This is probably the biggest one for me. Suffering at large isn’t avoidable. But, there’s always something on the other side of that suffering. There has to be! When we are going through something, we’re tasked to ask ourselves: What can we do with this while we wait to be on the other side?
To be honest, I don’t really know how to answer that question. But, knowing that suffering has a use on its own brings me peace. We will have a chance to see what’s on the other side eventually. And when we get to that place, there will be an epiphany (many epiphanies, for that matter) about reality. And we will write about it. We will paint about it. We will record its lesson for years to come. And we’ll look back and say: “We struggled for a reason.”
It’s important for me to point out that my suffering is privileged. My struggle is different than so many others’ in this world and I, by no means, should compare my pain to yours or the other. Moreover, pain should not be condoned. We don’t (only) need suffering to grow. But when pain has to strike, and it does, we find ways to prevent it later. We tell its story. Suffering, because of the clarity and solutions that come after it, makes the world truly beautiful in the end.
I will end with this. We are substantial. We are creative. We have the capability to heal. And because we are all of those things, we can find them everywhere.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - May 19, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.