Most of us have favourite place to walk, to clear our heads, or get inspired: the beach, the woods, a moor or prairie, a river bank or disused railway track, a wild-flower meadow, a country lane or city park. All around us pockets of beauty beckon.
Most have heard of the concept of random acts of kindness. It is a popular one. I have a new passion, a variation on that theme: random acts of beauty. These aim to take natural places and enhance them through our own small acts of creativity.
Think natural graffiti. Guerilla art. Making your mark in your local surroundings. Leaving little works of art behind you that others will happen across. Small creations to lift the heart and spirits, to make people stop and wonder for a moment: labyrinths in the sand, stone spirals, flower pictures, mud sculptures, carved wooden figurines…
One of the best-known names associated with natural art-making is Andy Goldsworthy. If you know his work, great. If not do take a moment to visit his website to find out more about his work and philosophy. His approach, in his own words, is this:
“At its most successful, my ‘touch’ looks into the heart of nature; most days I don’t even get close. These things are all part of the transient process that I cannot understand unless my touch is also transient—only in this way can the cycle remain unbroken and the process complete.”
Keep in mind his creations and then shrink them! Random acts of beauty are little, doable creative acts, ones that mamas can do with babies in slings and that toddlers and teens can help with. That is part of the beauty: your kids are able to join in and share their own creative responses to their natural environment. At the end of it you all get to step back say “look what we made!”
In the act of creation we enter a dialogue with our surroundings. We take them in through all of our senses, appreciating the tiny details that we would normally have missed. Creating random acts of beauty is meditative: it is a true act of mindfulness. We behold, we act, we reflect and we move on.
In the act of creating we also engage with the wider community, our “audience,” who will interact with our works of art. In choosing to create, we share freely with those who also love this place, who come here with their worries, their anger, their need to clear their heads, or pass the time with those they love. But because you are entering anonymously into communion with them you will most likely never know what effect you had!
So I’ve got your interest. But how do you start? It is easy to go out all fired up and then blank, feeling the pressure to create something wonderful. So here is a meditative guide to committing random acts of beauty.
Breathe. Look around. Walk with your eyes open…
This is like beginner’s mind in meditation. Always start again with beginner’s mind: open to all possibilities.
When your eyes and heart have landed on something which awakens your creative impulse start to gather them: bright green baby beech leaves, unfurling fern fronds, white pebbles, sycamore seeds, catkin tails, mussel shells, pussy willows, twigs, rose petals…
Gathering is the second stage.
You drink the materials in through your fingers, your eyes, you start to dream as you hold them. Listen with your whole being. They will tell you how to work with them. Their form, their shape, their texture will begin to create itself into “art” by itself.
Remember, this is a meditation with natural objects. Your intention should be “nurturing” rather than “forcing” a form into being. There is no requirement to make high Art. Your only job is to be aware.
Of the objects…the season…your surroundings…your breath…
No one dies if it’s not perfect! So now it’s time to play.
Keep them in your hands, make a pile, lay them out flat…play with them.
It’s okay, you’re allowed to! This is where you begin to find form.
What is in your mind? In your heart?
A circle, spiral, web, flower, heart, sun, line, nest…
Keep the shapes organic, reflect the form of the landscape, the objects, or a form of soul significance.
In this moment you are one with all who have used these images and these natural materials before you. You are the cave painter, the ogham stone carver, the runes man, the Celtic goldsmith…
Enter the flow…
Begin your work…
Let thoughts slip away,
Will anyone see it? What will they think?
Some people are coming, they’ll think I’m crazy!
The joy of (and the struggle with) ephemeral art is its very nature: ephemerality. What has been drawn from nature will eventually merge with it again. It is a wonderful lesson in non-attachment. We cannot take the result with us, only the memory, the process, and perhaps a picture. It was “ours” and then it is not. It is gone. We cannot cling to it, identify ourselves with it or hang it on the wall. It is a reflection of ourselves and our surroundings at a particular moment in time. This too passes.
I encourage you to join the experiment. Other possibilities include: sand sculptures, decorative piles of stones, sand paintings, woven grasses, shell mosaics, messages hanging from tree branches, natural mobiles, leaf sculptures, a mandala of leaves, feathers, or petals, a fairy house in the woods, ice sculptures, leaf poems… Right now I am enjoying writing messages on the beach — messages with multiple meanings; to amuse, encourage and arouse curiosity, to pique the awareness and grab people out of their day dreams and into awareness.
The only rules are that you are not damaging anything, man-made or growing (be especially mindful of rare species.) Aim to pick what has already fallen rather that which is still growing. If you do pick be sure it is plentiful. Ensure that what you create is not dangerous, disruptive or long-lasting. Remember, it is ephemeral art – it is there, and then it is gone. It must be respectful of its surroundings, and preferably use materials from the same ecological niche. Please ensure you leave the environment even cleaner than it was before – do a little litter clear-up whilst you’re there; leave no other trace but love and beauty.
Lucy Pearce is full-time mama to three little ones. She is also a freelance writer and contributing editor at JUNO magazine. Visit her at Dreaming Aloud, and access her archive of previously published work on pregnancy, birth, natural parenting and health here.