Like most people I know, my 2012 was a rollercoaster of ups and downs (frequently both at the same time). If years can be like sports, it was as if I’d signed up for an easy game of flag football— and (unbeknownst to me) wound up in a full-contact, rough-and-tackle rugby match.
During the start of a new year, I typically ask myself a series of questions to reflect on the past and refocus my sights on the future: What did I accomplish? What worked and what didn’t? What will I do differently in the year ahead? What will I do the same? After such a charged and restless 2012 I certainly ended the year with a strong desire for a clear path forward. So you’d think I’d be drawn to these questions more than ever. But I’m not.
Right now the more urgent pull for me is to mine beauty from the strife. When I see through the lens of beauty, I feel better equipped to meet life’s continual surprises and challenges with an attitude of optimism and wonder. This attitude is enormously practical because I now have no illusion that 2013 will be any less of a rugby match than the one I played in 2012! But I’m changing my experience of the game; beyond the usual habits of exercising, eating healthy, and connecting with people I care about, I’m practicing a new maneuver— seeing beauty no matter what life and work offers— to fuel my effectiveness and wellbeing.
Like clockwork, the moment I decided to seek beauty in a world of discord, teachers all around me appeared.
Through a brief three-and-a-half minute video, I became acquainted with kids from Cateura, an impoverished Paraguayan community built on top of a landfill. They make musical instruments out of the 1,500 tons of trash dumped there every day. Their newly formed Recycled Orchestra is a 30-member ensemble complete with cellos made from rusty oil cans, drums from old pots, and flutes of PVC piping. Their performance of Beethoven, Bach, and the works of many other composers is simply stunning. It’s all summed up by their music teacher and social worker, Favio Chávez, who says: “The world sends us garbage, we send back music.”
Then my mother shared a YouTube video of a group of professional dancers from China who perform around the world with exquisiteness and grace that can only be called spectacular … even more so when you discover the dancers are hearing-impaired. It turns out all performers and staff members of the troupe are physically disabled. Since 1987 the Chinese Disabled Performing Arts Troupe has served as an uplifting outlet for the values of equality, self-empowerment, and participation. Another example of strife met with beauty.
So this rough-and-tumble year I’ve been trying to make sense out of? There is beauty there. Like seeing past garbage to find potential, like seeing past disabilities to find true ability, it can take time and creativity to turn struggles and frustrations into something beautiful. When life starts to feel like a sweaty game of rugby, I hope, like me, that mining its beauty becomes one of your winning strategies.
Photo by K.M. Klemencic