The importance of noticing beauty 

white flowers

I saw a white heron the other day. I have never seen a white heron in Ireland. I see grey ones regularly, especially around the area where I live. In fact my eyes are ‘trained’ to see small birds like robins, finches and tits, and of the bigger ones I easily spot a heron. I notice them sitting on the trees, flying over the city, pondering the life of fish by standing in shallow waters in the river. Yet so far I have never seen a white heron in Ireland. I remember them from the fields of Northern Italy, in huge flocks spread for miles on end, both white and grey. But not here.

I googled ‘white heron in Ireland’ and learned it is actually called ‘little egret’. The birdwatchers website says, “Little Egret was considered rare in Ireland until it first started breeding here in 1997”. I guess it is not uncommon, but somehow I never spotted it until a few days ago. It made me pause, even if I didn’t have much time. You cannot pass by something beautiful without stopping. I tried to take a photo but since I only had my phone with me, the photo did not turn out very clear. The quality wasn’t good enough to put up here, but I still have the memory.

There is something special about a white bird. I am not quite sure what, almost as if it communicates ‘I am unique’. Not in a showy-kind-of-way. No. In a gentle way, by just being itself. I am always grateful when I notice something beautiful. It leaves an imprint on my mind, a blessing on my soul, and if I have seen it for the first time it leaves a touch of mystery lingering around. The beauty of the world is a gift; learning to notice it is our ‘thank you’ to what we see, and to God who created it.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 29th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Photo of the Week

I love this photo because it is so delicate, like a Christmas tree ornament with a flower in it. I know that rose is often considered to be a Queen of the flowers, but in my view an orchid can be as breathtaking. If rose is the Queen, then the orchid is a Lady among the flowers. It may not have fragrance, but the detail in which it exposes its beauty is almost intimate. If you ever saw an orchid opening up its petals for the first time to the world, you will know how sweet her presence is. But back to the photo. Something about it makes me smile, I cannot for sure tell why.

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© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 26th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

When in doubt – bake

Or cook. Or both. Not that I was in doubt, but I did bake. Double chocolate chip muffins. They are as delicious as they sound. They are already a history by now, but since the end result was rather satisfying, I think we will make sure for the history to repeat itself in this case.

I don’t normally use a mixture when making muffins, but this time I did. I followed the instructions, added eggs, oil (a little less than it said on the packaging), bit of water and then mixed it all together. After I spread the paper cups around the tray, I poured in the mixture and proceeded with the final touch: a sprinkle of ground almond on the top.

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The warm oven was ready to welcome soon-to-be-muffins. And less than 20 minutes later, ta-ta:

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The biggest compliment came from two of my housemates: one is not supposed to eat wheat but was delighted to have a muffin (I know I should not tempt her, but she found a way around it so I do). The other one adamantly told me she cannot eat sweets as she was on a diet, and then thirty minutes later came into the living room asking almost apologetically: ‘Is the offer for a muffin still on? I would like one, if it is’. Of course! No better compliment than that one.

The day after muffins, pizza followed (and a day after that vegetable lasagne with chorizo, but I don’t have a photo for that):

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I never thought that conversion can take a shape of making someone into a cook; especially if that person didn’t like cooking beforehand (when I was a student I thought cooking was a waste of time). But perhaps in a broader sense conversion can be anything that enhances our life, and cooking certainly does enrich mine.

(This is a monthly feature. In order to read the first post in the series go here: Healthy cooking – it’s about the attitude, as well as the food)

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 26th June 2015)
All photos by © Iva Beranek

Before we are 100

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“You have beautiful blue eyes”, he complimented her. “My eyes are brown”, she said sharply. He has been drinking again. “I know you think I am drunk.”

He had a way of reading people, and she made it easy for her every thought showed on her face. Before she could say anything, he continued, “I am actually colour-blind, but I can still recognise beauty”. He said it with a wink in his eyes. Why mention colour of my eyes if he is colourblind. She wasn’t impressed but she also wasn’t able to take in a compliment. Her mind was preoccupied with the news she got last night.

He noticed that she got even more tense, so he said, “I am sorry”. She looked with amazement. Why is he apologising now? “I am sorry that your best friend is not well.” “Who are you?!” These three words cut to the core of his soul, as if they asked for the reason of his existence. His heart split in hundreds of pieces as he tried to find the suitable answer.

Should he tell her? He knew how she would react. “I am your husband. We used to joke about the colours and that I was colourblind. You used to laugh when I said these obvious mistakes.” It made no sense to her. “You are not my husband!” She ran towards him. His heart broke into thousands more pieces. He held her tightly. She wept. And he did too.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 24th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

This post was inspired by Sonyca’s 100 words story “The Girl Who Lived“. While I didn’t decide to write this in only 100 words, I realised you can say a lot in just a few words.

Through the rabbit hole

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I just started a Facebook page to share my writing and photography. In order to access it myself I have to go to it through my own private Facebook account. It makes me feel as if I am going through the rabbit hole into a wonderland. Yet when you think of it, writing or any other creative process in fact resembles this mysterious journey through the rabbit hole. You never quite know where writing will take you. In life also we don’t quite know where the journey will lead, and still in this mystery and unknowing often lays a gift.

But I guess it helps if deep down in our hearts we do know where we wish to go, even if we don’t quite know how to get there. In religious language this would be known as ‘answering a call’. Having an inkling, an intuition inside your heart and then following it as best you can; even though the journey will most likely surprise us and there is no possible way for any one of us to predict all the roads we will have to take. It is probably a bit too late at the moment to write about this topic in any real depth. All sorts of thoughts come to me, clarifying or rather deepening this idea of the inner call, but knowing it is past midnight I am aware that if I went addressing them while my mind is not fully alert I would probably get all mixed up (I am getting all mixed up even with explaining this). I might pick up this theme at another time, but for now you will have to forgive me for opening up this idea and then leaving it unfinished on the horizon of my paper.

It is quite striking, though, that the answer about a direction we aught to take in life will depend on a very simple question, “Where do you want to go in the first place?” As Lewis Carroll portrays,

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
(from “Alice in the Wonderland”)

Now, what if where you wanted to go seemed a little bit ‘impossible’ from where you are at present? What would you need to change to get there? You don’t have to tell me, but think about it. Sure, I will too. Not this very minute, one can’t think too much at this time of the night. Which reminds me of another random quote from Alice’s adventures in the Wonderland.

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

So, lets do that tomorrow. I challenge you (and me!) to practice believing impossible things. Which impossible things will you practice believing in tomorrow at breakfast?

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 19th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Welcome to the Fairytale. Dublin Garden Festival

Yesterday I went to the Dublin Garden Festival in Christ Church Cathedral. I missed it last year, so all I knew about it was that it would be beautiful. Quite an understatement, is was stunning. I was in the Irish Writers Centre earlier in the morning and then after lunchtime headed towards the Cathedral. I took a shortcut through the Temple Bar, mostly to avoid the crowds. The town was beaming with people.

Outside the Cathedral it was quite lively too.
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But nothing prepared me for what I would find inside.
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I took around 300 photos during the visit. Later I edited around 50 of them. I would like to show you a selection. Are you ready for a photo tour around the Fairyland? In the Fairyland many stories meet, some beautiful and inspiring, some heartbreaking, though soothed with the gentle presence of the flowers. Perhaps as we walk through the garden, you and I, we might remember that imagination is one of the greatest gifts we as human beings possess. And garden was in fact originally a meeting place with God.

As we enter immediately one can rest.
This is our ticket to the Fairyland; leave your worries here and come follow me.
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Notice beautiful details all around you. An orchid hanging from its own flower-bed.
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Further down a secret garden hides another tale.
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Can you notice magic fill the air?
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As we walk deeper into the Cathedral, we are also invited to pray.
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The journey leads us to Our Lady’s Chapel where every week the Eucharist with prayers for healing is held. This is a heartbreaking part, for here we can sign the book of condolences for the young Irish people who tragically died in California.
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Aware that we are on the holy ground we walk further to another beautiful fairytale.
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Where shall we go now?

Oh look, a butterfly!
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And more beauty along the way.
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Let’s go over there.
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More magic in the air.
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Did you enjoy this? Now let us venture further into the world beyond tales noticing beauty, flowers, stories that only our hearts can tell. Appreciating little things in life makes it all worthwhile.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 21st June 2015)
Photos by © Iva Beranek (apart from the one where I am in it)
(See Photo challenge)

Learning to Love

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That is a title of the book where five of my poems were published last summer. I did not have my personal paperback copy of the book until recently. I ordered it in April and it arrived in May. It was like I ordered a treasure and when it was delivered to my doorstep and I was finally able to hold it, it felt like a gift. While I’m writing I have it in my lap, as if it’s going to help me with writing; and the book itself still feels like a gift.

The book is a collection of poetry written by ordinary people from around the world. Chris Goan, the book’s editor and initiator of the project put out a request on social media for people to submit poems on a range of topics.

In his introduction Chris put’s it like this:
“What I was looking for was a new kind of Christian poetry – using language set free from the narrow clichés; an honest kind of poetry that arose from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that did not shrink from pain, from ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asked questions more than it answered them. Poetry that held us to account for our actions – particularly those of us who have any kind of power. Poetry that was skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these were the preoccupations of Jesus).”

I dipped into it and read some of the other poems, though they are more for savouring than for a quick consumption. Yet I must say what I most love about this book is its title. “Learning to love”. It is so realistic, for we are all learning how to love.

When thinking of who I would like to attract as the audience for my blog, I think it would be any one of you who is willing to learn from and about love, anyone who loves beauty and is open to growth, who wants to explore deeper truths in life. I actually never thought about my audience until I was asked this question. Is it really necessary to narrow it down? I wish to welcome everyone who is willing to come and read my writing.

Naturally, I always hoped that people who know me will read my posts, and that hopefully at least some of it will inspire them. Of the people who don’t (yet) know me, I am always honoured when they, when you appreciate my thoughts and when I hear that what I have written has resonated in some way. I especially value the readers who don’t agree with me (on everything) but still choose to come here, and when they comment they do so lovingly and with great respect. A few of you will recognise yourself in this and just know that I truly appreciate it.

The best books I have read were not necessarily those that were well written, or that thought me much. One of the most profound experiences of reading was when I noticed that not only was I enjoying the book I was reading, but that the book was in fact simultaneously reading me; as if the writer understood me. How did he know what I was going through? His profound words were unlocking something deep inside me and whatever he was saying made sense. That writer was Thomas Merton. Poetry has a way of unlocking those depths. And while I don’t envisage that my writing can always do the same, I do hope that I can at least encourage, inspire and point towards what is beautiful in this life. At least from time to time.

Eventually, when my written word progresses further from “Learning to Love” towards my own published book, I hope that perhaps through this blog and other means there will be a small community of people who will already be pleased to read my creative writing ‘offline’. Whether you are new to my blog, or you have been coming regularly, it is my privilege to welcome you to my site. I hope your time here can be like a walk in the garden, admiring the flowers, taking rest, and that my words, images and themes I address, will sip into your soul as if you were reading a book at the far end of the garden. Tell me your thoughts as you read and we can imagine that we are chatting over coffee or afternoon tea, reading poetry together and talking about life, in order to learn together how to live well and how to truly love.

(To order “Learning to love” go here)
© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 19th June 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

I write in order to live

made of stories

“Why do you write?”, someone might ask. It is almost like answering a question on the essence of your existence. I write in order to put into words things and realities that are beyond words. I experience life deeply and for many years now I have had a thirst to share some of what I experience with others. Not all of it can be put into writing, some I prefer to cherish in the depths of my being, unspoken.

Here on the blog I write reflections on life. I take on topics as they present themselves to me through encounters, through seasons or occasional memory that emerges from within me. A good number of people have told me that I should write a book about my life’s journey, and while I have not properly ventured in that direction yet, some of the stories I shared, especially from my childhood, are small stepping stones that one day can easily lead towards writing a book, a testament of what life gave me, what life thought me thus far.

The themes that I most often address are written above the title of my latest entry, “life”, “poetry”, “inspiration”, “church”, “spirituality” and so on. Those who read my blog will soon realise that I regularly write about my Christian faith, as it weaves itself through seasons of the year and seasons in my own life. Some themes will have sub-themes, for example under the “inspiration” you will also find some of the short stories that I have written. Writing101, or in this case Blogging101, are courses I took on WordPress with the main aim to develop a discipline of writing.

Of all the genres I think that poetry most profoundly expresses the inexpressible.
I believe that poetry comes from the deep wells of our heart where only truth and goodness live. Writing a poem is like mining a treasure from within our soul and then when we find it, we can share the treasure with the world and with each other. I love writing poetry, but I also believe that poetry is much more than a poem one writes; it is a way of life. When we look at the world and see innumerable possibilities coming out of a single flower that is clothed in beauty, or inspiration coming from a bird that sings its song in all seasons, then we realise that our every waking moment is filled with poetry. We just need to learn to see life in that way.

I do not often write an ‘opinion piece’ by which I mean I don’t really use the blog to give my view on current affairs. I did this only twice so far, once last year and once just recently. While I find that those took more courage to write and to publish, they have in fact been most read overall , so whenever I wish to increase my readership or rather my ‘viewership’ I may need to consider writing another one (so far once a year may actually be enough).

But I guess I also write because it makes me feel alive. The process of writing is exciting. Often when I start writing, the story or reflection takes me where I had not intended to go. I love that kind of surprise that I have no control over. Writing fiction takes this to a whole new level; as I let my imagination lead me to a far away places I create the setting and meet characters that tell me, their writer, how to write their story. Sometimes the story is already so alive inside me that it writes itself and I merely help it come to life by birthing it through my words.

Writing can also be a means of loving because it can express inexpressible depths that only love can reach and fill. At times I find it best to let experiences integrate within me, instead of wasting them by putting them into words too soon. Other times I will honour the experience or the imagination by letting it take shape in a written word. One does not impoverish the other, they are both a dance of life, shadows dancing with light.

If I did not express at least some of my thoughts and experiences in writing, I don’t know who I’d be. So I guess I write same as I breathe, in order to be able to live.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 16th June 2015)