Focusing on unsung beauty

The coming of Spring-time gives us cause to reflect and re-focus our priorities. One of the simplest and most important priorities is self-care. I definitely need to be better at it. In the adoption community this is especially well-recognised, since looking after children who have suffered developmental trauma takes it out of you and recharging the therapeutic parenting batteries takes on particular importance. It is especially difficult when one cannot stray for from home to get exercise and fresh air.

Frost-edged leaves and grass back-lit by the early morning sun. A quickly snapped smartphone pic – it may not be perfectly in focus photographically but the fact that I stopped and gave it my focus for a few mindful moments is more important.

Physical activity can play an important role and it can be a real tonic to get outside in the daytime, even just for a short time. It doesn’t have to be ambitious or lung-busting, but I sympathise with anyone for whom even a countryside walk is a luxury. Maybe one lives in an urban environment with only limited access to green spaces. Maybe the mere mention of ‘going for a walk’ is met with disdain from young and wilful members of the family. What then?

A little trick that gives me a more mindful focus when I’m out on foot in my local neighbourhood involves a more curious, observant slant, looking for little details. Even in mundane urban environments, looking closely at the patterns and textures of everyday surfaces brings me a little bit of meditative mindfulness. While for me they are often nature-based – a leaf outlined in frost or a tiny fern growing from an old wall – I also like to spot close-up perspectives of everyday materials. Some examples: the peeling paint of an old window, rusty studs or hinges on a door. Quite often the intersection of man-made and natural is especially appealing, like moss growing in a grate or lichen colonising a concrete gate-post.

A delicate fern growing from the cracks in a sunlit brick wall. This is a type of Spleenwort, though what matters is the joy of noticing it and perhaps thinking about the power of nature to colonise urban surfaces.

I like to capture images with my phone and when the mood takes me post some of them, (rather sporadically I admit), on an Instagram account I set up for the purpose. The taking of the pictures is the joy. This is not always possible, when accompanied for instance by a family member who desires one’s undivided attention, but the beauty is in its universality. It takes only moments and there are things to notice almost everywhere. (Curiously and this has only just occurred to me, it’s an outside thing – not something I think of doing indoors. There must be some reason for that. )

Instagram is a way of recording this unsung beauty and sharing it, with a small added incentive: the warm glow that comes when they are appreciated by others. I have written previously about my curious Instagram dalliances and how a whole community of people worldwide share this passion for detail-hunting. You’ll find my dedicated¬† textures account¬† on Instagram if you search for @likestexture.¬†

Although I’ve always been grounded in the natural world, I have found it at times a little intimidating to be surrounded, through my social media feeds, by people much more knowledgeable than myself, be they botanists, bryologists, lepidopterists or ornithologists.

What has transformed my experience is simply snapping things which catch my eye without feeling obliged to try to identify or classify. These things represent beauty as I perceive it in the moment. They are generally outdoor images in natural light, generally in close-up or from an unusual angle and might typically focus on an appealing pattern, texture or coloration. Sharing it with a friendly community of texture fans like myself enables me to showcase not so much the places I go but the mundane and the commonplace features which my artistic eye is drawn to when I slow down, drink in my surroundings and really look.

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