The Lost Art of Sitting

 

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Last night, my 11-year-old niece told me about a birthday party she had gone to.  Their morning activities included waking up to a morning smoothie bar and a hired yoga instructor.  Am I the only one who happens to thinks this is INSANE?!   What happened to the birthday parties where you play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, eat some cake and call it a day?  Our American culture has become obsessed with productivity, efficiency, and one-upping last year’s Pinterest birthday party.  The dog days of summer have been replaced with a steady stream of camps, organized play groups, and a landslide of sporting events.  Stress related illnesses have reached an all time high.  What is happening to us?!

Now with five children, I could never convincingly claim that my life is anything but frantic, chaotic and constant.  But I can genuinely assert that as a direct rebellion against the busyness, I have intentionally reclaimed the lost art of sitting.  I have created a space for this sitting right by the fireplace with my favorite chair that will soon have an indelible imprint of my backside.  I have a small garden stool for a table used exclusively for my coffee.  And my kids know that when I am sitting there, I am very unlikely to jump up and do much of anything for them.  They are, in fact accustomed to me calling out for the nearest child to “give me 20!” (which in layman’s terms means a coffee reheat).  This time for me always involves a little reading, a little contemplating, and a lot of just staring out the window. It is my balking recoil against time, chaos and the never ending to-do list.

From an architectural standpoint, it is interesting to observe how even our homes exhibit our cultural priorities.  Backyard patios, as opposed to front porches, tend to be the focus of most outdoor living spaces.  Porches represent the concept of sitting, doing little to nothing, just being.  Whereas, patios tend to emphasize entertaining, playing, and doing. Interesting enough, these are the top five results that pop up when the word “sitting,” is googled: “Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes and premature death…Sitting is bad for your health…Sitting will kill you, even if you exercise…Is sitting a lethal activity…Sit less, live longer.”  Even alleged inspirational quotes about sitting carry a negative connotation. References are made to bench warmers, laziness, loneliness and passivity.  Sitting has gotten a bad rap.

Even so, I choose to sit.  I choose to sit and slow down time.  I choose to be unproductive for 5 minutes, an hour, a day so that I might be happy and rested and mentally clear.  I choose to not be constantly efficient so that I might have energy for my kids and husband.  And I choose the pin-the-tail-on the donkey birthday parties so that my children will not constantly expect bigger and better for the remainder of their lives.

 

The Beautiful Life

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The ancient Greek philosophers stated that there were three prime virtues: goodness, truth and beauty. Most individuals would readily affirm this statement and even proclaim that they are trying to live a good and honest life. But how many would honestly be able to say that they are actively pursuing a beautiful life? As humans with souls, we understand this to mean that we not only live our spiritual life in a beautiful way, but also our corporeal, tangible and every day life. This ideally means that we are to physically beautify everything we come in contact with, be it a person (ourselves included), a meal, our home, our workplace, or city of residence.  Now this can seem like quite a tall order, especially in this busy, stressed-out, frantic culture that we live in. It can become another checkmark on our to-do list as opposed to an organic way of living an aesthetic life.

In order to move forward in addressing the creation of beauty, we must first acknowledge the problems that are so often evident in our American culture.  In my opinion, the primary issue is that we have traded the art of beauty for pragmatism (what is useful) and efficiency (does it get the job done). For example, our American churches resemble nothing of the old grandeur once delegated to places of worship. They unfortunately blend in, even in industrial parks. As an amusing, but not funny side note, we were driving by a local church with one of our children’s friends. He asked what store it was and when we told him that it was a church, he quite wisely stated, “It doesn’t look like one.” Even children seem to inherently realize the need for beauty. A secondary problem is that people often equate the pursuit of beauty to selfishness or the pursuit of vanity. Nothing could in fact be further from the truth. Pure beauty blesses all that come in contact with it. One final observation is that is for the most part, we have forgotten or perhaps have never even identified that which we love. The classic childhood question asks, “What is your favorite color?” As adults we think this is silly and quickly brush it off. But why can we no longer answer this question? Why do we not have favorite colors, favorite smells, favorite foods, favorite flowers? And if we do, why do we not routinely surround ourselves with them? Why must life become gray with age? If we will learn to fall in love with our physical and natural  and yes, even man-made surroundings, I daresay we will discover a new level of joy and delight in the world around us.

Moving from the philosophical to the practical, how does this apply to everyday life? When I am working with clients in their homes, I use only one rule: they must love anything and everything that is brought into their home. Statements like, “This would be ok” or “This might work,” are problematic, in that people are looking to external criteria to define their tastes. True beauty must have its roots in love. It should be emotionally evocative. Think of watching a Colorado sunset. In one moment, all five senses can quite literally feel and absorb true beauty. It is in fact these five senses that provide an ideal framework with which to recreate beauty. With the holidays upon us, let us consider how this might be achieved. Visually, you could make your house sparkle by adding different forms of lighting…fire tipped, dripping candles of multiple heights and colors on a tray; twinkling rope lighting on a ledge; even by installing a dimmer to a dining room chandelier. The tactile dimension could be established with the use of soft, fuzzy blankets draped over a favorite chair by a lit fire; Christmas carols in the background could provide an audible contribution and the smell of sugar cookies baking in the oven would wrap it all up. The creation of beauty is much more comprehensive than simply making something look nice. It is more about creating the feeling of beauty. Our understanding of what is beautiful is far too often reduced to only that which can be seen by the eye. It is much more properly understood in the integration of all senses.

In further examples, light a fragrant candle on an ordinary day while cleaning with your favorite music playing in background. Buy fresh flowers for no particular reason. Fix an unexpected dinner served on fancy china; don’t wait for that special occasion. Buy plush and inviting pillows instead of scratchy, “pretty” ones. And then, you will realize as the Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker states that, “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” And from there, as Dostoevsky states, “Beauty will save the world.”