“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius
Close your eyes for a moment and see what comes to mind when you think of the word ‘beautiful’.
When I did this exercise, I thought of scenic nature spots, beauty pageants, and heard songs that have the word ‘beautiful’ in the lyrics. You may have pictured something similar to or different from what I saw.
The traditional definition of beauty is “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”. Yet our specific preferences for beauty will differ, based on our past experiences, personal proclivities, and our sense of aesthetics.
The beauty we’re familiar with is subjective and personal. But the truth is you can find beauty in almost anything: people, nature, food, books, and even the most unusual things. For example, an undertaker manages to find and uncover the beauty he/she sees in a corpse while grooming it for a funeral!
However, over the years, our propensity to recognize beauty has steadily diminished because of the influence of the media and society, which propagates a distorted concept of beauty. Beauty is now being positioned as a scarce resource that we should all be striving for. Advertisers and the mainstream media makes beauty seem like a commodity that you need to earn, buy or acquire.
This has created a social eco-system where everyone’s on a quest for attaining beauty, oblivious to the fact that it’s readily available to us in abundance. As kids, we knew that beauty is like a shy flower that would bloom only when we nourish it with our love and attention.
The beauty I’m referring to has nothing to do with outward appearances or physical characteristics. It’s omnipresent, transcendent and limitless. It’s the essence or soul that exists within everything and everyone. It’s a subtle energy that can’t be seen or touched but can be felt and sensed.
Beauty isn’t a construct of the mind but of the heart. It’s an ethereal quality, which can only be recognized by the deeper realms of our consciousness. It requires us to surrender to the present moment, let go of control and to go with the flow.
Even though there’s chaos and unpredictability out there, you have to believe that there is beauty and goodness at the heart of everything. For example, when you look at a flower or a picturesque lake, avoid judging and labeling and learn to simply accept and appreciate it for what it is. As the great Buddha once said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”
Many of us find this a challenge because we’re accustomed to looking for those cracks in the wall and fixing it. Our education systems prime us to become skeptical observers and rational thinkers who are constantly trying to identify problems and find solutions. While problem-solving skills are essential, we have to be careful about not overusing them as it can blind us from picking up on subtler energies.
According to Alexandra Horowitz who wrote On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, “Part of what restricts us from seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that expectation. In a sense, expectation is the lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process the world ‘out there’.”
The beauty that we see around us is also a reflection of the beauty we see within ourselves. When we’re not at peace with who we are and unhappy with the way our life is going, we won’t have the capacity to appreciate the beauty around us. Just observe anyone who’s in a bad mood or has low self-esteem and you’ll notice that most of them have a cynical and bitter approach towards living.
Beauty is best appreciated when we take an inside-out approach. Here are four tips on how you can increase your ability to perceive beauty:
1. Define what beauty means to you: Everyone has their own idea of what makes something or someone beautiful. As the saying goes, “beauty lies in the eye of the holder”. But if you want to widen your horizons, you need to challenge yourself to look beyond what you normally consider beautiful. Get out of your ‘beauty comfort zone’ and search for what lies below the surface of people and things. It’s also helpful to know your emotional reaction to beauty. For some people, it elicits feelings of calm, peace and serenity. Some feel a sense of aliveness, excitement and joy, while others experience amazement, wonder and awe.
2. Slow down and let go of judgments: You can’t notice beauty if you’re always in a rush. It’s only when you slow down, catch your breath and take the time to pick out the details in your surroundings, will you be able to awaken to the sheer wonder around you. Open all your senses and focus your full attention on a person, landscape, structure or object and you’ll see that what seems mundane or even uninteresting might actually resonate with you on some level. We also need to let go of any judgments and expectations that the world will conform to our worldview. The reality is that the natural world (and people) doesn’t care about what we think and we only hurt ourselves when we take on a negative attitude. It serves us so much more to practice compassion instead. Beauty can be sensed when we see the world through the lens of grace and peace and not from condemnation, hate or fear.
3. Acknowledge when you see something beautiful: Finding beauty is a deliberate act that we need to engage in on a regular basis. Your ability to experience beauty largely depends on the level of intimacy that you have with life. If you’re entrenched in the material world and you’re disconnected from your inner-self, you’ll overlook all the inspiration around you. Adopt the sensibility of an artist, poet, song writer, music producer or a writer who can intuitively pick up on beauty with their astute sensitivity and channel that into their creative work. You can find beauty in the little things and during the most ordinary moments such as when you’re having a cup of tea or coffee. Use the opportunity to smell and appreciate the flavor of the beverage. If you’re by yourself, indulge in some people-watching and observe the scenery. If you’re with friends, focus on their beauty and your conversation. I recommend noting down your ‘beauty findings’ in a gratitude journal on a regular basis.
4. Appreciate the beauty within you and let it emanate: It’s almost impossible to acknowledge the beauty in others and in our surroundings if we don’t feel beautiful within, because all of us tend to project our self-image onto the external world. So make it a point to acknowledge and appreciate your own beauty, which includes your traits, physical appearance and your heart. If you’re fixated only on what you see in the mirror, remind yourself that a truly beautiful person is kind, considerate and empathetic. You’re a true beauty, not because you’re well-groomed and pretty, but because you’re a good person who treats others with kindness and respect. A genuinely beautiful person who emanates this form of inner beauty comes across as being sincere, confident and compassionate.
The meaning of beauty cannot be captured by the media, cultures or corporations. It is defined by the freedom of your spirit and the depth of your heart. It’s felt during those precious moments that consume you, like the intoxicating scent of a rose, transporting you into a state of love, bliss and ecstasy.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: How much do you appreciate beauty in the world? How do you notice it and express your admiration?
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