In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote “beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil”
Winter in NZ is just as beautiful as any other season, and with some time off work I find myself nourished by beauty, along with a feeling that I have been in a beauty-drought for some time (although actually I have just been too distracted, too veiled, to notice it.)
When I pause to appreciate and even celebrate beauty – in nature, in art, in music, in people, then I relax a little more, feel more connected, feel more joyful. So how to connect with the beauty of this life without getting all graspy?
There is undoubtedly a confusion in me that wonders – because all phenomenon are empty of any inherent existence, is calling them ‘beautiful’ delusion? Further, because of their impermanent nature, won’t labelling them ‘beautiful’ lead me to suffering when their appearance changes? And anyhow, as a good renunciate, shouldn’t I reject beautiful possessions, not care about having a clean and comfortable house, not have fresh flowers or a cute hand-made teapot?
Dōgen said “enlightenment is to be intimate with all things”. To see the beauty, fragility and preciousness of a cup, a punnet of delicate raspberries, a dozen snowy swallows huddled for a fleeting moment on a branch, or even a tatty pair of my well worn shoes, is to care. Perhaps, to care deeply for things is also to realise their beauty. Why are sunsets and sunrises almost universally considered to be beautiful? In part surely it’s their evanescence; they are so ungraspable. We know, they won’t last.
The Buddhist writer and teacher Lewis Richmond says:
“What a startling thought: that the very evanescence of things can be a cause for joy, and a way to see this ever-changing, ever-aging world as a thing of beauty. A plastic flower is superficially pleasing, but only the living flower, shedding its petals and fading away at the very peak of its blossoming, is truly beautiful. This insight is the aesthetic dimension of Buddhist teaching and also a source of its ethics. When we appreciate every person and thing as fragile and precious, we don’t want to hurt them. Instead, we practice the first precept — non-harm — and aspire to be more careful and kind”.
I love that!
But what about the beauty in all of us humans? Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, whose life work was with the grief stricken and the dying, says that beauty doesn’t just happen. She says ‘the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern.’
In the Buddhist scriptures is the following tale; very shortly after the Buddha’s enlightenment, a Brahmin priest came across the Buddha seated in contemplation. Struck by his beauty and radiant outward appearance, the Brahmin asked if he is a god or an angel or a spirit. No, the Buddha replied. He explained that he had simply revealed a new potential in human nature. He was living in this world of conflict and pain totally at peace, with serenity and kindness which shone out of his very being.
Or, as Roald Dahl puts it ~
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose, and a crooked mouth, and a double chin and stick out teeth but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.
How we treat others not only affects the sunbeams shining out of our own face, but also the sunbeams shining out of others.
This video has been around for a wee while (and has had 11.5m views!) but it’s well worth watching again. The young film maker Shea Glover asks strangers to pose for a portrait, but then reveals her actual project is to film people that she finds beautiful. She has been able to capture the very moment that the subject’s appearance transforms when they hear the words ‘you are beautiful’. It’s a powerful teaching – we truly have the ability to make people blossom in our presence!
As you notice the beauty around you today, don’t forget to include yourself 🙂
*fantastic photo of the swallows taken by Keith Williams