I set the alarm for 5:15AM, and wake up to the phone ringing at 6:53AM instead. It's the Baltimore Farmers Market Bazaar organizer, Pooja, wondering whether I still plan to come to the market. I thank her for her patience with me, roll out of bed, wash my face, and head downtown, to the interstitial space under the freeways, where farmer & craftspeople & shoppers of stripes gather every Sunday morning. Inner Beauty will get there when Inner Beauty gets there, I had said the night before… I am discovering this body is no longer of the nature to be easily coerced out of its well-deserved rest.
Each time the Inner Beauty setup is a little different. This time, when I sit down at my little table to draw the day's sign, the results look like this:
My crafts-neighbors are delightful - Steve the tie-dye man, and Norma & her partner, who make jewelry. It's kind of a cold morning at first, and so I wrap myself up in the yoga blanket I brought along, and wait to see what will come along. Soon enough, delightfully, what comes along is my sister-in-law, Kate, and her two boys, Atticus & August. They go off on a quest together, and come back a few minutes later with coffee (for me) and mini-donuts with sprinkles and powdered sugar (for everyone).
The two little boys and I improvise some Inner Beauty Special String Practice. I ask them, When do you feel safe, and happy in the world? When does it feel really good to be you? August says right away, When I am laughing! So he chooses a blue string, and I tie it around his wrist as a Laughing String. When he feels sad, which we agree happens to everybody, I tell him he can look at his string and be reminded of laughter. Atticus says he feels really good when he is swimming in the water like a mermaid, floating and spinning. So he chooses a red string, and I tie it around his wrist as a Mermaid String, telling him he can remember the feeling of being free in the water, whenever he likes.
Heart, mind & body nourished by kindness, coffee & donuts, I go back to people-watching:
pit bulls walking loyally by their people's sides
little kids in vegetable carts and red wagons
a baby with a big pink bow on her head
a plain woman buying a big necklace for a daughter carrying beauty
a mother with flowers in her hand and a newborn in a stripy sling
couples whose movements match one another
a bright little girl in braids, wearing a shirt that says THE BEST IS YET TO COME
busy nurses in blue scrubs, walking fast
ladies shackled & shellacked in beauty, teetering out of contact
a young woman with a yoga mat in her bike basket, walking slowly & contentedly past everything
people of all ages, genders & ethnicities in Ravens shirts of all numbers: ARVIS, FLACCO
a tall man with blocked shoulders, and long dreadlocks in a lush knot
a young woman with a scrunched-up face, sucking something cold out of a big styrofoam cup
I see you. I have been you. Here we are.
Jake, recently retired after a hard last year of work, stops to see what I am doing. I explain the practice, and give him an Inner Beauty Passport, which he tucks inside the magazine he's carrying. On consideration, he tells me, You'll do just fine. A weirdly comforting benediction.
I tell my neighbor, Steve, that seeing so many people walking around the market with dogs is making me miss my Chloe-beast. He tells me his beloved dog went to sleep last month, after eighteen years of life together. Seeing people with dogs makes Steve feel free, he says, because he doesn't have that responsibility anymore. He says it'll be a long time before he gets another dog, because there's a great sadness at the end of that, and he doesn't want to deal with that now. When I explain the project & offer him one, Steve goes right for an Inner Beauty Passport with a wolf on it. You, too? He asks. You've got dark aspects, too? I tell him, pretty much everyone.
So many people's response to the Inner Beauty Passports is, Oh, man! I really need this. Essentially, these little books are issued as licenses to know what we already know: we are complex, chaotic, wise, kind, self-obsessed, self-sacrificing, related to everything, isolated, futile, finely-honed, loving, hidden, obvious, inheritors and makers of big messes, resolvers of big messes, dreamers, doers, thieves and treasures. It's all there, and the more we acknowledge all aspects of ourselves, the more we can become transparent & open to what is, moment by moment and step by step.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.