The Empty Lot, Suburban Alabama

One of my most life-changing practices over the last few years has been paying attention, being mindful of my surroundings, and looking for beauty.

Years ago I lived in Tokyo and had a good friend who struggled with the ugliness of the city. Unlike the beautiful, iconic Kyoto, much of Tokyo was leveled by American bombs in WWII, and the rebuilding was done with little attention to the external appearance that foreigners associate with the traditional Japanese aesthetic. My friend, originally from Singapore, found the city depressing, and we had many conversations about Thích Nhất Hạnh’s writings about looking for beauty in the everyday experience.

On January 1, 2013, I decided to take a photo a day and quickly focused on looking for natural beauty around me. Some times of year in Alabama (where I live), this is an easy practice. But in the winter or when the weather is bad, it takes more effort. However, what this has meant for me is that, as I go about my daily life, I pay more attention.

As I drive to work, I notice the plants on the side of the road.

As I walk across campus, I notice my surroundings in a different way than before.

And, as I walk my dogs, I notice the beauty in the yards and empty lots we pass.

The photos below are from an empty lot that most of my neighbors probably either consider an eyesore or ignore. Here’s what it looks like from a distance.

IMG_1681

But if you go closer, there is amazing beauty.

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