in the world

Finding Beauty Through Simplicity

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

My father was a landscape artist and he used to carry a small piece of cardboard with a rectangular section cut out which he used as a viewfinder. Looking through this simple tool helped him isolate different aspects of the same scene and settle on a composition for his paintings.

I carry one around in the folder of my sketch book, and when using it I notice how it de-clutters my field of vision and simplifies my choices.

There are many ways we can use the idea of a viewfinder to focus our attention.

Every time I’ve attended a silent meditation retreat, I always relish the feeling when that first bell rings, signaling the beginning of silence. It’s like having a frame of simplicity placed over my life for a few days.

That single change reduces the many social interaction choices we need to make during the day and ushers in a velvety cloak of silence. This has an immediate calming and focusing effect on me.

By taking away these choices it becomes so much easier for the mind and body to settle deeply.

The writing practice of noticing works in this way too. It limits your writing choices to one: record what is happening in the present moment. It takes something infinite and provides an access point that retains a sense of expansiveness, while reducing the sense of overwhelm.

This act of framing and simplifying makes it easier to give your full attention.

Once your attention is focused and intensified; beauty, and detail, and previously hidden patterns are revealed. Curiosity is fed, and you are open to the vibrancy of everything around you.

This might be where we get that idea of attention as a form of love. When you think of the word ‘attention’ in this way, other words may float up; like ‘attending’, ’tending’, and ‘tenderness’.

As Rumi points out, when we find ourselves walking through a garden, we have our own cultural frames that guide us in how to experience that garden so we can receive it fully. Beauty is all around us but a garden acts like a frame, so when you visit a garden all your senses become attuned towards beauty, and you can’t help but find it.

Great focus and attention is required in the creation of a garden. It’s there in the act of envisioning the garden, the deliberate care given as each plant is put in the ground and nurtured along, the thoughtful placement of each element with an eye to how future visitors will experience the garden.

These all require shifting viewpoints that bring simplicity. The results of these choices then come together, like a mosaic, to bring forth an experience of beauty for us as we arrive to experience the garden.

Are there activities in your life that you frame with simplicity? that inspire attentiveness, tenderness and focus? Leave a comment, let me know.

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Daniel March 16, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    It appears such a simple idea, to focus on something. In this world that o find myself in, it seems so impossible, each details brings with it a rush of memories, fears and anxieties. My place in this world is minimised and I no longer wish to look. Decluttering and being deliberate feels like something that everybody must do. I need to try the experience of finding the beauty in gardens.

    • Reply Dave Rowley March 17, 2016 at 5:45 pm

      Hi Daniel, I can really relate when you say “each details brings with it a rush of memories, fears and anxieties.” Focusing, and taking in a little at a time can help there. But even more important is to take care of ourselves and determine what it is that we most need in the moment. Being present can bring up many different feelings and it can be helpful to start off with small chunks of time and gradually expand as you get more used to it. Best wishes!

  • Reply Cynthia March 17, 2016 at 3:05 am

    I really love the viewfinder analogy, so simple and powerful. I love hanging out in our garden and vegetable patch with our baby boy, his sense of wonder at everything around him is beautiful and we see it with new eyes. The small creases in the flower petals, the hairs on a caterpillar and the brilliant greens of our growing baby lemons. Slowing down and really drinking everything in is almost meditative.x

    • Reply Dave Rowley March 17, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      Hi Cynthia, So lovely to hear about you and your baby in the garden. Babies carry that sense of wonder so effortlessly, and it’s really contagious isn’t it! Love your description of slowing down and drinking in all the beauty with him. Thanks for sharing that!

  • Reply Sim March 24, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I definitely agree that there is something to be said about being truly present in the moment. We live such hurried lives, to slow down and take every moment in, not worrying about the next thing but truly enjoying each moment gifted to us is an excellent concept. I will certainly focus on being more present.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 13, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Sim,

      Yes, being hurried through life definitely makes it harder to be present, doesn’t it? Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Reply Jess April 6, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    What a great idea – we all live in such a fast paced world that it becomes quite hard sometimes to focus on the little things. This is something I’m becoming more and more aware of. Great post.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 13, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Jess,

      That’s great to hear! Glad the post was useful 🙂

  • Reply Bev April 6, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Being present is something I have been working on. I have been trying to live a simple life. I dont know why sometimes we feel we thrive when things are chaotic. Great post as always.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 13, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Hi Bev,

      Living a simple life is such a great way to encourage presence, and it is funny how we equate chaos and business with thriving or success, isn’t it? Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Reply Sidney Aldaine April 7, 2016 at 11:47 am

    People these days tend to overcomplicate things. It goes without saying that they view the whole world the same way. Sometimes it`s just our viewpoint that is too complicated. Most things and beautiful moments in life are the simple ones.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Sidney,

      Oh, yes. I agree! We are definitely encouraged to overcomplicate things.

  • Reply candy April 13, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Decluttering my view when I look at something, love this.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 14, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks Candy,
      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Reply Flavia April 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I love the analogy of the viewfinder. It makes a lot of sense. Just by simplifying things, we get to truly appreciate the little things in life. Thanks for sharing it! 🙂

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 14, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Flavia,
      Oh yes, simplifying in order to see more clearly is great in itself, but that appreciation is the real payoff!

  • Reply Amy Lu April 14, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    When I paint, I am able to be attentive and focused. I often find myself painting scenes that bring serenity or peace to my life.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 14, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Amy,
      Painting, any kind of creativity really, is such a beautiful doorway into presence. I’m glad you’re able to tap into that!

  • Reply Rica@ Yoga Mat Monkey April 14, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    When I was studying creative writing, my instructor suggested carrying a notebook and opening myself up to the visual stimulation around me. I wrote about the moss that hung on my tree like a ragged grey scarf, and the speckled hands of an old man gripping his shopping cart. This practice helped make me a better writer, but most of all, it took me into the present moment to observe and enjoy life. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    • Reply Dave Rowley April 14, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Rica,
      “the moss that hung on my tree like a ragged grey scarf” — that’s so beautiful! I always carry notebooks around as well for sketching and writing. I love your instructors advice to ‘open yourself up’ to the visual stimulation around you. Wonderful!

  • Reply Dannie April 14, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I love the idea of simiplfying and de-cluttering through the use of a viewfinder. Especially today when we’re constantly being attacked by media, ads, social, and so much more on a constant basis, it’s so important to remember to keep it simple and just look at one thing at a time. Great insights!


    • Reply Dave Rowley April 14, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Dannie,
      Oh yes, it does seem like we’re being attacked at times, doesn’t it? I’m glad you found the post useful.

    Leave a Reply