By Rebecca Compton
Someone gave me a button with the message ‘Small but Powerful’ a long time ago. I wore it often, perhaps to both remind myself and to warn others… I’d like to rephrase that to read Small AND Powerful. A simple idea, at face value, yet an idea that can transform how we look at the world.
In our popular/modern, Western culture, we tend to believe that bigger is better: bigger homes, bigger cars, bigger bank accounts. I’ve long sensed, however, this isn’t enough; it’s limiting and unsatisfying. In fact, I believe that the true beauty and power in Life is revealed in the smallest pieces – in the astonishing artistry and wonder discovered in the details of this world around us.
I’ve been accustomed to look at the world around me and see the “big picture.” In many ways, we’ve been trained, educated, and acculturated to this point-of-view. And looking at the big picture does have its place: it’s where we invent, dream, imagine, create, and grow. And yet, when I need to relax, rejuvenate and refresh, I look at the beauty in small things.
If you need more convincing, think of the beauty and perfection of a newborn baby. Babies arrive with no baggage, no guilt, no remorse (the past). Babies reflect no worries (the future). Babies live, in absolute perfection, in the moment (present). A baby is what he or she is – perfect and pure – the essence of Being.
If you’re of a more scientific mind, look at atoms: small and essential building blocks of every physical thing we know (and atoms are made of even smaller beautiful things). Think of DNA, of chromosomes, of the power and beauty of gene pairs!
So, how do we make the shift from “big picture” thinking to “detail-observing”? We can most easily begin with the practice of noticing the beauty, perfection and power in the details of the natural world around us.
When I’m looking for shells at the beach, I often begin by scanning for larger objects. But when I need to be absolutely present, I look through the piles and drifts of seemingly valueless shell debris. If I stop and am still, if I look at each piece of broken “debris”, I almost always experience the thrill of finding tiny, whole shells: an olive shell only 2 cm long; a moon snail shell smaller even than that; a whelk shell almost too tiny to identify. And while the shells appear fragile, these shells were absolutely essential to protecting and sheltering the organisms that lived in them – that’s power.
Consider spider silk. Spider silk is so fine it is sometimes barely visible, yet by diameter, spider silk has greater tensile strength than steel (or, think about your reaction when you walk through a spider web!).
Become aware of the perfection and beauty found in the details of the world around you: sounds, colors and shapes. In the cacophony around us, begin to listen and isolate individual sounds: the pop of an oyster, the splash of a fish, the call of an individual songbird, or the distant laugh of a child. Be delighted by the single red flower among a mass of green foliage. Be wonder-struck by the dance of a leaf as it falls from tree to ground, the proboscis of a butterfly, the moon in the sky.
At times, life can seem so overwhelming. If we can pause and consciously focus our attention on the beautiful small things – if we can separate out the small parts – we may find that life can be more easily managed. Begin with one small task, one beautiful detail in your life. Feeling overwhelmed by clutter? Clear out just one drawer. Life is feeling too much right now? Breathe. In and out. Repeat.
If you need to relax, refresh and renew, begin a new practice of discernment: observe the beautiful, small pieces of life. It can provide a mini-vacation you can access at almost any time. Bon Voyage!