Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror (Kahlil Gibran)
It’s the end of a long day and you step into a hot bath. Suddenly your mind and body tingle with pleasure. Doesn’t it feel great to be alive? Sure it does, but why wait until the end of the day to cleanse and refresh yourself? We live in a world of beauty that bathes with pleasure and delight all who gaze on it. To gain entry into this magical world, all we have to do is be aware. But as Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Those who are asleep, sadly, live in a drab world.
Two men work at their desk. All Tom sees is paper and pen. Harry, however, sees the white paper he’s writing on change to pink. It seems to be speaking to him, “It’s already sunset; take a look out the window.” As he does so, Harry, too, is immersed in pink light. His eyes locked on the setting sun, he feels the universe communicating with him. Or, perhaps, the universes senses that he is communicating with it. Since we are one with the universe, it is more accurate to say the universe is talking to itself. That may have been what Kahlil Gibran meant when he wrote, “Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.”
Returning to Harry, he folds the letter he wrote, and before slipping it into its envelope, gently strokes the paper with his fingers. As he does so, images flood his mind. Images of forests, woodcutters, paper mills, trucks transporting giant spools of paper, stationery manufacturers, retailers, and customers like him. It’s almost as if the entire universe is contained in the sheet of paper that he holds. As he seals the envelope, he is aware of his surroundings. The background music sends a chill down his spine. The sparkling duet of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli intertwine with the fragrance of the rose sitting on his desk.
As he sips his herbal tea, savoring its subtle flavor and aroma, he catches a glimpse of the painting on the wall. Its color, composition, texture, and style never cease to delight him. Suddenly, a strange feeling overcomes him. Overwhelmed by the beauty of life, it is almost too much to bear. He remembers what the English poet Felicia D. Hemans (1794-1835) wrote, “There’s beauty all around our paths, if but our watchful eyes can trace it midst familiar things, and through their lowly guise.” As he reflects on this verse, he realizes that beauty nurtures us, sustains us, and uplifts us. It is nourishment for the soul.
It is more than that. It is the voice of the infinite, the heartbeat of God. It is how He reveals Himself to us. Here’s how the American Naturalist, John Muir (1838-1914), describes it, “No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!” Beauty is not in the eye, but in the heart of the beholder. It is communication between humanity and existence. These ideas are hardly new. For in the third century Plotinus wrote, “Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being. We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being.”
And how shall we be true to our own being? Plotinus explains: “Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not fine yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow or beauty and never cease chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.”
A beautiful person, then, is not one with good looks, but one with good deeds. Or, as the French say, “Beauty, unaccompanied by virtue, is as a flower without perfume.” All friends are beautiful, so when we witness beauty together, we see twice the splendor.
When we appreciate beauty we can create it. After all, how can we create it unless we are attuned to it? And the greatest work of art we can produce is a life worth living. Our personal triumphs are works of art. They can be mightier than the clash of cymbals in a heart-gripping symphony. We are attracted to beauty because we are all artists. Our lives are our works in progress. So, let’s follow the advice of Jalal-Uddin Rumi (1207-1273), the Persian Sufi Mystic Poet who wrote, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
Even in moments of suffering, misery, or pain we can experience beauty. In fact, Johann Friedrich Von Schiller (1759-1805) wrote, “If you have never seen beauty in a moment of suffering, you have never seen beauty at all.” Similarly, Anne Frank wrote in her attic hiding-place, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” Consider, also, the unbearable pain caused by the loss of one’s spouse. Isn’t that pain caused by the great love that was shared by the couple in question? And isn’t the memory of that love a thing of beauty?
Beauty is an experience, not a label. In ordinary conversation, when we say someone is beautiful, we imply that someone else is ugly. Beware of labels because they prevent us from experiencing reality directly. Sensory data reaching our brains are not supposed to be filtered by prejudices. Narrow-mindedness distorts perception and hinders the joyful experience of life. The moment we drop all labels, we stop seeing the world as we imagined it to be, and start experiencing it as it really is: beautiful.
I’m sure you will agree with Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) who wrote, “A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.” We can learn much from the aboriginal or Native Americans inhabiting our continent. And we can begin by repeating the Navaho Night Chant with each step we take:
“May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful all around me.
In beauty it is finished.”