I have a secret to tell you.
I have a superpower.
And you can have it, too.*
My superpower is that I see beauty everywhere.
Now, I’m not talking about seeing beauty in a saccharine, Pollyanna kind of way, or in a Lego Movie Everything is Awesome way, or in a hippy, it’s all good kind of way—especially not the last one. You don’t need to know me very long to discover that the words “It’s all good” put me into a weird rage, because, people—
Not. All. Good.
What I am talking about is seeing beauty—really seeing it.
In other words, I think my superpower is noticing.
I have been strengthening this superpower my whole life. The first place was in art school, where I was taught to focus my attention on different ways of seeing. In a drawing class we learned to look at the mass and weight of things by drawing the structure of the objects at hand. In color theory we played with how our perception of color can change–place colors of opposite hue next to each other and they will look like they are vibrating. In sculpture we looked at negative space—what wasn’t there being as dynamic as what was. In photography we worked with light, and fell in love with the richness of pure black and the pop of bright white, and every variation of gray.
My superpower was strengthened in a different way when I began studying Buddhism and meditation. Here I learned to focus my attention, first on my breath. A big part of meditation practice for me was learning to let go of preferences—the idea that lilacs smell good and skunk spray smells bad. When you let go of what you think you like and dislike, you can have a more whole experience of whatever is at hand.
This level of attention can lead to many surprises! Once I was in a daylong meditation retreat where we practiced silent, mindful eating together. The lunch that day was burritos. We sat on our meditation cushion, with a small table before us. We were each given a foil wrapped burrito on a plate. When the meditation instructor gave the direction that we could begin eating, everyone peeled back the wrapping from their burrito, and the room filled with the crinkling sound of foil being bent.
It sounded like bird song. It sounded like a symphony. It filled me with joy.
A couple of weeks ago I was out having drinks with a friend. We were sitting at a large bar that was circular, so we had an excellent view of many of the other patrons. We began playing the game of making up stories for each of the people in the bar, and after a few minutes I was awash with the feeling of how much I loved all of them. Everyone was so interesting to look at. Here we were—full of desires and loves and heartaches, with jobs and families and dreams. That’s the thing about noticing—if you let yourself look, really look, at the people and the world around you, you can’t help but start to see beauty, and connection, everywhere. And that’s what led me to writing.
Writing is where my superpower gets to play. To create whole people, to give them rich, complicated emotional lives and to build a world for them to live in requires the most patient and loving attention. In some ways I feel like the desire to write THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING was partially inspired by the need to gather all the details of living that I have fallen in love with and to share them. It’s my little act of devotion to the beauty that I see everyday.
*Here are some ways to that you can strengthen your own superpower of noticing:
Take a walk and look for one color. You will be shocked at how many variations of the color green there are in one city block.
When you are sitting on the subway, look at all the different shoes that people are wearing, and notice what associations you have with each style.
On your commute, try and pay attention to how many different scents you notice. What does the 7-11 smell like? Your car? Your jacket? Does the coffee shop actually smell like coffee or like Fabuloso floor cleaner?
On another walk, listen for how many bird songs you can hear.
I’d love to hear what you discover!