Beautiful Garbage

garbageTHE MOST BEAUTIFUL GARBAGE in the world must be here in Bali. Yes, I see plenty of cellophane and plastic soda bottles, but these are more than balanced with the remains of woven palm leaf offerings, colorful cloth left from a ceremony or funeral, and flowers that dry into exquisite wrinkles of color. This sacred garbage somehow elevates all of it, and in this context I find myself appreciating even the way the light hits fragments of foil from candy wrappers scattered on the side of the road.

It helps that it is all held in a womb of abundant foliage and animal life — from the tiny to the enormous. The bugs are outrageous, not to mention their cocoons: I found one hanging from my potted plant that looked like a rainbow-colored jewel, complete with shiny facets that caught the light. An iguana lives upside down on the high ceiling of our porch. Fish with wide silver eyelids stare at me from the pond while I have my lunch. And last week, I saw a pale yellow dragonfly seated on a stick whose head swirled around like a ball bearing, its mouth moving as if talking to me.

The longer I am here, appreciating these little things -— from the bugs to the artistry in a metal hinge -— the more I realize that I didn’t need to come to Bali to see beauty everywhere. Yes, it’s harder to see the beauty in what is ordinary and familiar, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I was reminded of this when I went on retreat at a Buddhist temple filled with statues, carvings, gardens, trickling fountains and a view that extended over the ocean. “This place is so beautiful,” I gushed to my Balinese roommate. “Really?” she said, surprised. Then she shrugged. “I guess I’m just used to it.”

More and more, I see the need to counter that force of “just used to it,” so I recently started taking classes from Shannon Belthor, a western artist teaching here in Ubud. We make collage-like constructions each week from her collection of found objects, then take them apart — like sand mandalas. Her eye for the beauty in small things is so well honed, she sees it in places I haven’t ever considered looking. Take tea bags, for example. She tears them open, discards the tea, then dries the bags to use for collage. Once dried, the tea bag with its mottled, stained surface is delicate and translucent, like antique fabric. She glued them over a wire frame and created a gorgeous filter for sunlight that hangs in her window, much like stained glass.

So please save your tea bags -— if not for yourself, then for me.

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