I have the privilege of spending this weekend on Vancouver Island. While there, I’ll be teaching a writing workshop (join us in Comox?), sitting in circle with women, and connecting with several friends and colleagues.
In between, I’ll be wandering the shoreline, taking pictures of eagles, and exploring paths through woods and towns that are new to me. Hopefully I’ll catch at least one sunset or sunrise over the water.
Wherever I travel, I make it my intention to find the beauty in the local landscape, even if I only have a moment to do so.
I have a long-abiding love affair with beauty. It’s a love affair that runs deep through my bones, through my heart, and through my blood.
Yesterday, while I was doing a task that wasn’t particularly beautiful (cleaning mouldy, nearly unrecognizable food from the back of my fridge), I listened to a podcast that I listen to at least once a year – John O’Donohue talking about the importance of beauty. O’Donohue has been one of my greatest influences in my love affair with beauty. His book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, is one of the most well-fingered books on my shelves.
“When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.” ― John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
Several years ago, when I still worked in international development, I traveled to two places where people lived in abject poverty – a village in the poorest region of Ethiopia and a village in the poorest region of India. The experiences in those two villages was strikingly different. I left one feeling happy and hopeful, having spent much of our time with the community laughing and dancing, and I left the other feeling sad and discouraged, having spent most of our time listening to their woes and heartache.
Since their economic status, access to land, etc., was essentially the same, I wondered what was different between the two communities. Here is my hypothesis… In the hopeful community, they still had eyes “graced with wonder” and in the other, their eyes “had already been dulled.” In the hopeful community, there was still a clear reverence for beauty. Their clothing, though old and somewhat tattered, was clean and well kept. The girls wore their hair with fanciful braids and beads, and the young men used butter to make their hair shiny and smooth. They danced for us and shared their music. In the other community, both women and men had given up combing their hair and nobody’s clothes looked well cared for. There was a look of deadness in their eyes. There was no sharing of their cultural dance or music.
I can’t tell you what came first, a loss of beauty or a loss of hope, and I don’t know about all of the contributing factors in either village nor do I have any right to judge them, but I can tell you that where there was beauty, there was a sense of hope. And where there was a lack of beauty, there was little hope. The two were clearly link, one way or another.
I believe this to be true in all of our lives – beauty and hope are intertwined. So are beauty and healing, and beauty and growth, and beauty and community.
Beauty is not a luxury, it is a fundamental cornerstone of a well-lived life.
“When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us.”
Last week, I went to see my friend and physiotherapist, Christelle. Though I was there for foot issues, Christelle ended my session with a beautiful, relaxing cranial sacral massage of my head and neck. “It’s like getting an oil change for your car,” she said. “It refreshes your body and let’s you have a clean start.”
I was struck by her analogy and about how this relates to the role of beauty in our lives. Just like a head and neck massage might seem counter-intuitive for a hurting foot, the search for beauty may seem like a waste of time when you’re poor or heartbroken. And yet… one heals the other. The head is connected to the feet in ways that we don’t understand and the heart is connected to the eyes in ways that we don’t understand.
Seeking beauty is like getting an oil change for your heart.
I don’t have a daily meditation practice, and yet there is one thing I do at least once a day… I pause for beauty. Beauty is my meditation, my mindfulness practice, my oil change.
Beauty heals me. It helps me see the world differently. It connects me to the earth and to myself. It reminds me that God is with me, even in my darkest hour.
“Indeed, it is part of the disturbance of the Beautiful that her graceful force dissolves the old cages that confine us as prisoners in the unlived life. Beauty is not just a call to growth, it is a transforming presence wherein we unfold towards growth almost before we realize it. Our deepest self-knowledge unfolds as we are embraced by Beauty.” – O’Donohue
Sometimes, beauty comes to me as the frost pattern on my window. Sometimes it comes as a woodpecker on the tree in my backyard. And sometimes, like yesterday, beauty comes (after some toil and ugliness) in the form of a shiny clean refrigerator.
Whatever it looks like, beauty is worth pausing for.