It’s been 30 years, but I can still remember walking into my freshman dorm for the first time like it was yesterday. What faced me inside the room numbed me and drained my excitement. I expected to feel liberated that day. Instead, I felt empty.
The impact of opening the door to this new life was visceral. The dark wood furniture—two beds, two desks, and two dressers mirroring each other on opposite sides of the room—weighed heavy on my chest. The crusty, bluish carpet assaulted my feet. The cold, dirty, pale-yellow-painted cinder block walls saddened my eyes. The single south-facing window with its half-opened blind dangling crooked against the pane blocking the sun stung my brain.
It was ugly. No other words came to mind. The room was ugly. Just ugly, I thought.
As I reached out to straighten and open the blinds and with the optimism only a young, naïve girl can conjure in such a moment, I said to myself, “I will make this place beautiful.” With those words reverberating in my mind, my spirits magically shifted. The numb feeling was replaced with an energy that motivated me to get to work immediately and bring beauty to that small, 10 X 10 room.
I was happy in that space my first semester, taking pride in keeping it clean and organized and only bringing in items that brought me joy. I was also very particular about who I invited into the room. It was the first time in my life I became aware of how a person’s energy impacted a room, probably because the room was so small making it hard not to notice.
And then it was winter break. The dorms closed, and I went to my mother’s house for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and most of January. And there was a particular day that January I wish I could forget, but I can’t. January 16, 1991, to be specific. I sat alone in the dark basement of my mother’s home watching the beginning of the Persian Gulf War as rapid, darting blips of red light burst on the television screen. It seemed never-ending. I cried. Was this really happening? I thought of my friends serving in the military with whom I was laughing and smiling less than a year before. Are they there? Will I ever see them again? I thought about things I was afraid to think about but couldn’t help myself. I tried to understand what it all meant for the people on the ground and the fighter pilots above the destruction. Lots of questions and zero answers. I felt helpless and guilty and really, really confused and angry.
And then just as quickly as it began, winter break was over. I returned to my dorm. The room felt so different my second semester. I felt different. The war wasn’t over and would last until the end of February. Just 6 weeks.
During those weeks, I became very aware of the parts of myself I didn’t like. I remember sitting in my dorm room alone just thinking about how selfish and shallow I was for putting so much effort into things being pretty and organized all the time. I judged myself for the privilege in which I sat.
“For Christ’s sake, Paula. Your friends are sitting alone in a war-torn desert somewhere with nothing and no one familiar and you’re sitting in the comfort of a safe and secure little dorm room, focusing on everything that isn’t perfectly perfect and beautiful and worried about your grades?”
I cringed at myself. I judged myself a lot. I was harsh, too harsh in fact. All I saw was an ugly, selfish person. I was ashamed. I stopped putting effort into being beautiful, convincing myself that focusing on beauty, to whatever degree, was vapid, shallow, and a waste of time. Being beautiful wasn’t going to make the world a better place or make me smarter or wiser or a better person.
Needless to say, I sank into a form of chronic depression, marked by anger at anything beauty- or fashion-focused. Essentially, I denied myself to taste beauty in my life. And this denial didn’t end when the war ended. Oh, not by a long shot! This denial lasted several years. And took many forms, including dropping out of school, choosing toxic relationships, and choosing unhealthy habits of all kinds. No need to get into all the gross details of that. Bottom line: my belief that beauty wasn’t important led to living an ugly life.
I fed into the belief that I was ugly. And that everything was ugly. And no one could be trusted. And I had to do everything on my own. And when people behaved ugly (exactly as I suspected they would in the end), I was validated. Yes, life and the people in it were ugly. There was a never-ending supply of “ugly” proof everywhere I looked:
- Children were dying from hunger and neglect.
- Women were being beaten by the people in their lives they thought they could trust most.
- Innocent people were being sentenced to death.
- Young people were getting slaughtered in war.
- Leaders were lying and refusing to be accountable.
- Everyone seemed to be hiding secrets and lying about something.
I lost total faith in everything. Nothing was beautiful to me. Everything was ugly.
And when I made attempts to focus on beauty and finding joy, those moments were fleeting. There was always something ugly waiting to quickly ambush my peace and throw me back into the belief that life and this world was one big cesspool of ugly, greedy, and selfish people…men and women. Didn’t matter their gender, age, race, ethnicity, or financial status. They all found a way to pull me back into the pit.
I convinced myself I was being tricked and teased. That there was someone or some “thing” always watching me ready to judge me if I got too close to happiness, just waiting to pull the rug out from under me. I imagined this “thing” was looking at me and thinking,
“Is that a smile? Are those butterflies in her stomach? We can’t have that. Here’s a punch to the gut to snap her out of her ridiculous haze of happiness.”
At one point when I was an undergrad, I spent a semester abroad and felt it there, too, living in the international dorm amongst students from Asia, North and South America, Africa, Australia, and Europe. I realized it wasn’t just my little corner of the United States where people sucked. People sucked everywhere I looked. People seemed to be choosing to be mean, nasty, and selfish. So why should I bother being any different? What was the point of being nice and sweet? Why should I keep trying to please everyone with my choices? What was the point of being the “good girl”? No one else seemed to be worried about pleasing me or other people, and they certainly didn’t seem concerned about maintaining their integrity or being good for the sake of being good.
I decided the only way to survive was to throw away my desire to care and to sit in my belief that getting through was the goal.
“Just get through it. Being happy and living an ecstatic, joyful life is just a joke. It isn’t attainable. All that stuff is fairytale garbage, dangling like a carrot meant to distract and cause more suffering. You gotta ignore those desires, Paula, and move through life without expectations.”
I survived like this for more years than I care to admit. I chose excuses and anger to guide me. As a result, I hit roadblocks, setbacks, and challenges along the way which made me more pissed off and weary of life and my existence. I blocked beauty, which blocked who I was, which blocked what the outside world was, too.
Then one day I walked into a yoga studio and stumbled into myself and wept. At the time, I didn’t understand what was causing the tears to flow, but the message the tears sent was very clear:
“It’s time. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to trust again.”
I heard the message. I didn’t know exactly what it meant or what I had to do. For whatever reason, I chose to trust the message and begin my journey—a deep dive into myself, my limited beliefs, and my darkness. The more work I did to purge, cleanse, and clear my inner trappings and blocks, the more I was able to embrace and face the beauty and light inside and surrounding me, the same beauty I abandoned decades before.
At first, the beauty blinded me. I was afraid to get too close, to embrace it too much. Then I saw it working.
Focusing on beauty strengthened, activated, inspired, and helped me recreate myself. I learned from doing that BEAUTY MATTERS. Inviting beauty into my heart, mind, and beliefs gave me the courage, power, and clarity to manifest consistent abundance in my life—health, wealth, relationships, and more beauty. No more moving forward and then getting punched in the gut only to go backwards to start over again. That “thing” that once watched and ambushed my happiness in the past was gone.
With each move to a new city, home, or job, I inevitably find myself naturally repeating, “I will make this place beautiful,” because BEAUTY MATTERS.
There is so much I plan to write about the power of choosing beauty. For now, I will cut it short and end with a very simple reflection:
Life is worth living. Regardless of your past choices, traumas, and beliefs, you owe it to yourself to go deep and discover the full spectrum of beauty living inside you. Set aside ugly—ugly voices, ugly habits, ugly sights. No need to understand why ugly existed for so long. The truth behind the ugly will reveal itself once you start living in beauty. When the truth finally surfaces, you’ll be more resilient and capable of handling it without judgment, fear, or self-loathing.
LOVE TRAVELS Founder and Creator
Trust the messages you received while reading this post and allow love to travel into your life on the coattails of beauty. For guidance opening to the beauty inside your heart, reach out and Book a Zoom session with Paula.