I’ve always known I had one natural talent. It only impresses people who don’t have an iota of it. What? I have a great sense of direction. Mostly it has to do with driving, or walking somewhere. If you’re with me, you won’t get lost; I’m like a homing pigeon. In the course of life, however, I’ve tended to let myself go the experimental route, probably astray. (I mean that non-judgmentally). Lacking directional certainty for my own life’s trajectory, I sensed I would have to stumble (bloody toed, and generally bruised) into living my true life path. I was right. Still, I can drive a car from point A to point B without worry. Good on me for that.
As I was thinking about natural talents, I realized I have another one I’m grateful for. Becoming aware of it only lately reminds me that sometimes we don’t always see and acknowledge the strengths (natural talents) we have.
My other talent? I’m really good at noticing inspiring things/people/ideas, and I’m also good at noticing beauty. Often these go together. I want to clarify the kind of beauty I’m talking about here. I first heard the poet Kim Rosen talking about the importance of valuing beauty (not necessarily superficial beauty, the kind most often constrained and dictated by cultural norms, and in our day and age, by advertising).
Rather, I’m talking about all kinds of beauty, including beauty in music, dance, art, architecture, design, in nature and human-created. Mountains, streams, rivers, clouds. Beauty in acts of kindness and co-operation, the beauty of a gentle spirit, and a courageous one (see photo above). Tender and bold beauty. Faces and bodies of humans and animals.
It is not a small thing to notice and appreciate many kinds of beauty, to share it, to create it, or to use your appreciation of it to inspire a happier, more creative, more contributing you.
Noticing and taking in inspiration and beauty are as important to my well-being as taking in food, water, and sleep. Noticing beauty and inspiration is the opposite side of the coin of noticing tragic and alarming, the bad news — the dark side of our species, our world. I guess some people have a talent for seeing one or the other, dark or light. My talent is for seeing both.
This is why it’s critically important for me to nurture my talent for seeing and being strengthened by the light. Because the bad and sad of this world —the dark — can bring me to my metaphorical knees, where, bent, I serve no one — self or other.
I know I say this all the time, but it’s true. Life is hard. The Buddha said it all the time too. There is suffering. Some people think he said that life IS suffering. That’s Not what he said. He said there is suffering (not only suffering). The distinction is important. When you really get how difficult life is, how much and why we suffer, it’s a real wake up call, a call to action, a call to diminishing or ending suffering. We have one short and precious life. As the poet Mary Oliver asked, what are you gonna do with yours?
Personally I want to appreciate every bit of beauty and inspiration I can, so I can face the dark, have strength and courage to work with it, learn from it, navigate the terrain of it. Apply kindness and compassion. My natural sense of direction takes me only so far. Useful on land. Fortunately I have a second talent. For all things subterranean and soaring, I rely on inspiration.
What inspires me? on my short list:
Kandinsky & Miro
Creativity Explored (the artists and staff) & 826 Valencia
Writers & Poets
Maria Popova & Krista Tippett
Thanissara & Tara Brach
Mattie Stepanek (pictured above) & Jimmy Carter
Going on retreat with Cheryl Strayed
Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert
Adults who are kind to old people
Monica Lewinsky’s ted talk
Adults who save, love, and/or mentor children
Sir Nicholas Winton
Spring Awakening (the musical I’ve seen 3 times) & Hamilton (the musical I haven’t seen yet, and can’t wait to)
Michelle & Barack Obama
Bernie Sanders & Pope Francis & the Dalai Lama
flowers & trees
and of course, friends & family, who are kind and creative. Who show up in their own lives and mine. You inspire me.
What, my dear readers, are your natural-born talents? What is on your inspiration list?