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Beauty and Beholder


makeup.jpgSitting in the bathtub today, shaving my legs, I began to think about beauty.  A questioning mind always wants to know why.  Why are shaved legs preferable to hairy legs on a woman?  Why do people across all cultures prefer symmetry in a face?  These questions fascinate me.  What is beautiful today may be ugly tomorrow.  And all things are replaced by a new preference; just as a new bloom one day replaces every flower.

Beauty is defined as a characteristic that provides the perceptual experience of pleasure.  And I think the definition says it all.  If beauty is a perceptual experience and we all perceive so differently, then beauty is a subjective experience and therefore beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

We can train ourselves to see beauty in everything.  We can view this earth through the eyes of our inner artist.  I am convinced that this is one of the most essential spiritual practices of all.  When we practice seeing the world through the eyes of the inner artist, the entire world transforms itself into a work of art.  The movements of a crowd of people, which once seemed erratic, begin to seem like a dance.  The person, who once seemed obnoxious, becomes a bell of mindfulness that brings us back to the present moment.  The smoke stacks, which once represented corruption, rise up as if asking for help from the blue expanse of the sky.  They spill the sorrows of mankind into the air in billowing gray plumes.  And the sky answers back.  The limitlessness sky swallows up the plumes, and the sorrows along with it until both are diffused.

smoke stacks2.jpgI remember that in 2006, I began the practice of seeing the world in this way.  I hated the world.  There was no beauty here for me.  I was sitting on a cold, metal bench in a city park.  To me, the world was ugly and the people in it were ugly.  This life felt more like a prison sentence than a choice.  That day, a man walked by me and flicked his used cigarette butt on the sidewalk below my feet.  At first I was revolted.  It was even more proof that the world was disgustingly forsaken.  But I had committed myself to the practice of non-resistance and so; I reminded myself that the feeling of resistance within me was a call to ripen.  It was a call to ripen my perception.

cigarette butt.jpgI made myself watch the cigarette butt for a full hour.  It took fifteen minutes to get past my resistance, but once those fifteen minutes past by, a greater truth was revealed to me.  That greater truth was beauty.  It was like a whole other world had been revealed to me, a whole other possibility of perception.  I watched this object, which is unanimously considered ugly, but ugliness is no longer what I saw.  I watched it floating in the breeze, back and forth across the sidewalk.  I watched it as it was crushed again and again, under the heel of many a tennis shoe; leaving little sprays of burnt tobacco on the cold cement.  I realized that disguised beneath the generally assumed ugliness of this piece of garbage, was the lesson of allowing.

The cigarette butt was completely absent of resistance.  It did not resist the dominance of the wind.  It did not resist the crush of the shoe.  It had given its life in service.  Its entire purpose was to offer someone a moment of relief.  And suddenly, I treasured the cigarette butt that once I had been so repulsed by.

Resistance is an affliction.  It is an affliction that gives way to a deep sense of inner peace and happiness when we begin to cultivate this kind of focus.  The moments that we feel the most resistant to something we are seeing, are in fact the very moments that offer an opportunity to see clearer.  They are a calling to recognize a deeper truth, the truth of beauty, the truth of beauty in every single thing.  To see the world with this kind of clarity and to see the world with the eyes of truth, is to look at the world through the eyes of our true self.  Today, I challenge you to look at the world through the eyes of the artist within you.  To learn to look deeply and find the truth of beauty in every single thing.

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