Oh, how beautiful is sleep!!! The thought occurred to me this morning, as I was attempting to rouse myself to what was a most beautiful spring day, the kind of day that has not recently been too prevalent. I am not sure what that means, except, perhaps, that when one is tired and things do not seem so beautiful, then sleep is certainly so, and that is worth noticing.
The poet Keats, in his Ode on a Grecian Urn, exhorts his readers, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and urges them to focus on this inspiration. Although there are some who disagree with him, for two, the poet/philosopher T.S. Eliot and the mathematician Ian Stewart, the adage is a part of our culture. It is taught in schools, is recommended by many spiritual counselors, and has been supported by other academics, such as Dr. Mae-Won Ho in a 2011 lecture at the University of Huddersfield, UK.
Beauty is an elusive term. Attributed sometimes to Plato, and paraphrased often by others, the observation that “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” renders beauty as quite subjective. Why, then, are we drawn to the beautiful, and when all seems hopeless, encouraged to seek beauty?? Is beauty really a gateway to truth? Is what is beautiful also malleable, ephemeral, or does a common agreement that some things are beautiful give it substance? Or, are the two quotations addressing different topics?
I think it will take those wiser than I to answer those questions. For myself, I find that I am experiencing a need to create or find beauty, and that there seems to be little time or few resources to focus on it. Perhaps I am sensing a wish to alleviate some of the suffering and ugliness, both of man’s destruction of Nature and his destruction of our own species, and this is revealing itself in a wish for beauty. Perhaps, at the moment, I am limited to observing beauty, but it seems that this is something important to do. The blooms on the spring trees and the call of the birds in the morning are beautiful and free. The kindness I can see in people around me is beautiful. The neighbor who has created a beautiful garden is an inspiration. Perhaps beauty is simply a matter of perceiving it, and therein lies its truth.
Yes, there are things that are beautiful, yet still destructive to the extent that they could be labeled evil. The view of molten magma from the rim of a volcano is awesome in its beauty, yet it is totally dangerous. There is a certain beauty in the balanced pattern and force of the whirling winds of a tornado or hurricane, yet none wish themselves or their homes to be in its path. Perhaps the raging fire does clear the way for new growth, yet one must trust that the new growth will be one of nurture. For those fleeing the horrors of war or genocide, the accepting kindness of others can be their beauty. For those consumed by anger, any light of love that pierces through is a beacon of beauty.
There are silver linings to clouds of horror, depression, loneliness and loss, all those things that dishearten us and take from us the joy and the energy of life. Does the ability to perceive those silver linings equal beauty? Is that what the exhortation to seek beauty means?
I do believe that hand in hand with beauty goes gratitude, and that the finding of one often leads to the finding of the other. That does not mean that either is easy, and yet I can find no external barrier to finding beauty or gratitude. The barriers are inside, a kind of closing or refusing to perceive that which uplifts. Perhaps that is why we are exhorted to seek beauty.
Those who seek with me are my brothers and sisters. Let us not give in to hopelessness, nor stop in our endeavors to move ever closer to the sustaining and creating Energy we call Truth, Beauty, Love, God, the Force or by other names. To all of us, I wish us well.