By Shirley M

Happy New Year! It is a brand New Year again, full of possibilities and hopes. Around this time of the year, one thing that unites us all, independent of our culture or background, is the belief that the New Year brings new hope, will and energy to approach and conquer new projects and challenges.

Many people will use this energy to work on their New Year’s Resolutions. Some, myself included, will have a long list of resolutions they want to tackle. It might include things like trying to lose weight, live a healthier life, be more productive, keep a clean house, make more friends and much more.

While coming up with my own New Year’s Resolution List, I started to think about the poet Zilka Joseph’s upcoming visit to International Neighbors (IN) and that led me to think about all those things that bring me pleasure and transform my world.

Many years ago, I took some classes on the Japanese Tea Ceremony*. Not being a Tea Ceremony specialist, nor a student of Japanese culture and history, what I took away from those classes was more of a personal experience. What I remember from those days is the meditative silence that ensued once the ceremony had started, and the emphasis on beauty of movement and of environment. You took the time to look at the ceramic cup in which you were served, because it had been specially chosen for you, the guest, and you took time to appreciate how the room had been decorated for your visit. A new flower arrangement or a painting might have been displayed to celebrate an occasion or a season. For example, during spring, a cherry tree branch might have been added to the flower arrangement, or in winter, you might find a poem about snow.

It was an exercise on taking your time to observe and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, while at the same time, making an effort to surround yourself with beauty, which in the process would inspire you to bring out your own inner beauty; the best of yourself.

In our everyday lives, it is easy to get into a routine where beauty and the appreciation of life take a back seat to speed and convenience. We become so concerned about achieving quick results that we often forget that the process that will yield the best results, might take just a little bit more time, but would affect our family and friends in a vastly different way. Moreover, contemporary society is obsessed with things that rarely bring us pleasure. You get the news, only to learn all you have never wanted to know about crimes, hate, discrimination, abuse of power and generalized ignorance, all just in the first story you read. Once in a while you might find a story in the media that uplifts you, but those are generally harder to find. Because of our human evolution, we have learned that our brains recollect unpleasant things more readily than pleasant things. It is easy to see why our ancestors needed to be more aware of the plant that was poisonous, than of the flower that smelled good. But that is just one more reason why it is so important for us to surround ourselves with those things that gives us pleasure – because we might otherwise fail to appreciate them.

I think our lives improve when we live with beauty. It brings us happiness and lightens our spirit. That is why “taking my time to smell the roses” and “surrounding myself with things of beauty” are on my New Year’s Resolution List this year. I am not sure exactly how I will approach the task, but I have some ideas and a whole year to work on them.

Some weeks ago, coming back home I had to stop at a red light. While I waited for the light to change, I watched the crows gathering to roost near Pioneer High School. It reminded me of a poem which I include here for your pleasure.

Dust of Snow
By Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

*Disclaimer: The above is a personal view and understanding of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and is in no way an attempt to expertly explain the ancient Japanese Art. I bow and welcome a more experienced view/description that a reader might like to offer to us via their own writing.