So Many Words for Beauty

One of the things I’m enjoying most about learning Spanish is the small discoveries I am making about the impact language and culture have on one another. Here is my current favorite observation:

Some of the most repeated words I hear in conversations are descriptions of beauty and wonder.

Genial, guapa, bonita, linda, maravilla, bella, fabulosa, rica, and preciosa, to name a few...

On the other hand, the only word I’ve heard for ugly is feo. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other words for both, only that I hear people describe beautiful things much more often and in more varied ways.

I know this may be another instance of circumstance and the particular lens I’m looking through as I explore the culture and language of Spain. However, I’ve asked Spaniards about this and they’ve paused to consider their own vocabulary and agreed that their personal tendency is towards beauty.

Which leads me to my favorite thing about Spain: It is stunning! Most days I hike the trails in and around the two river gorges that frame this old city, wander through art museums housed inside 15th century buildings, and/or meander through the narrow cobbled streets in my neighborhood that take me past 11th century churches and monasteries and gorgeous old tiled balconies. Even days spent running errands and “taking care of business” demand that I pay attention to the beauty around me. I have a favorite “graffiti” artist who makes her/his mark on doors all over the city and favorite sayings spray-painted on walkways and the sides of buildings that feel more like poetry than an affront to the neighborhood.

It occurs to me that this city is conspiring to shut me up - to remind me that whatever I’m perseverating on is less important than I’ve made myself believe. Which is really what beauty tends to do right? It elevates us. It offers perspective and inspiration. When I pay attention to beauty and allow in a sense of wonder, I feel more connected to both a deeper element of myself and to the world around me. From that place, it’s harder to be angry about the miscommunications of the day or depressed about the current state of the world.

Which brings me back to the many words for beauty. When we name it, we pay more attention to it and when we pay more attention to it, we tend to name it more. Beauty begets beauty. Enter, neuroscience 101: We grow what we pay attention to. If you want to be nourished and inspired, wire your brain to take in beauty. Make a practice of noticing it and naming it. Beauty deserves our full attention so pause and let it settle in. Notice what it feels like on your skin, how your breathing changes and whether there are shifts in your mood, thoughts or emotions. Try to take in the full-body experience of the presence of beauty.

Consider letting this practice guide you through the rest of the holiday season. In a time when life can be hectic and stressful, this practice can both ground you and remind you of what the season is really about.

Of course this exercise is available to you wherever you are but if you feel called to practicing it with me, join Wanna and I next July for a retreat week of yoga, hiking, and exploration in Southern Spain! We still have space available so let me know if I can answer any questions.

Rachel Posner