Sometimes Beauty is Simply Waiting to be Understood

Sometimes Beauty is Simply Waiting to be Understood

cultivated rose in rose garden – photograph courtesy of M. McCreath

I have been thinking about the concept of beauty for many years.

A friend took this picture of a cultivated rose in a Portland rose garden. I appreciate everything about this image, — its shapes, colours, the meanings it carries for me. I am grateful for wild roses as well, with their more modest beauty and their distinctive yet gentle scent.

I find I turn to the natural world for the beauty I crave in my life more often than any artifact, human face or body, architecture, or film although all of these can give me pleasure or heighten my day as well. There are a few constants for me in the natural world that feed my soul—sunlight on water, back-lit leaves on deciduous trees, and the shapes of tree limbs in all their particularities.

wild roses on the prairie – Photograph © Colleen Watson-Turner

I like looking at rocks, stones, shells, wild flowers, tree roots, and barks. My mother loved clouds and the skies in her paintings were often wonderful. She used to say that sometimes skies are so beautiful that if she painted them, people would think she was embellishing scenes that were actually less dramatic or less beautiful than what her paintings revealed. Recently, I have taken to cloud watching as a kind of morning meditation. I miss having our acreage, and former yards and all the hours spent looking at the changing light and the affect of back lighting. Now that we live in a downtown condo, I feed my soul by sky- gazing from our floor to ceiling windows and walking the river trails close to our home.

Only music can come close to equaling the natural world for its place in my days. I used to listen to a CBC classical music show first thing every morning—one hosted by Eric Friesen and later others. And Dennis and I had a classical music program we loved that was part of our dinner hour.  Music for Awhile aired classical pieces rarely played on other shows. It introduced us to new music. Other CBC and American Public Radio programming, both jazz and classical, also shape our music tastes. They sharpen my listening abilities, teach me new things, and generally play a central role in both our lives. For me, this is another quality of the beautiful – it can draw me in and help me to grow as a human, expanding my ideas of the beautiful, the sublime, and their relationship to the contradictory and sharp edges of life.

Perhaps, I could say that sometimes an image or set of sounds is beautiful because it is arresting or startling—shaking me out of living in my head. I think beauty also has a role in destroying stereotypes.

Sometimes my feelings seem to have a certain kind of beauty. This experience might be because a documentary tells a story of human courage, endurance and compassion. I listen to the voice and watch the face of the speaker and feel moved to respond with some courage and compassion of my own, even in if it is fleeting, it reminds me of what is of real worth in life.

snake pit, Grasslands National Park- Photograph © Colleen Watson-Turner

I’m glad that not everyone finds the same things beautiful. We need beauty in our lives and we need to expand our sense of what is beautiful lest we are drawn to judgments that diminish and destroy our care for each other and the planet. I read a chapter about vultures recently and really appreciated this paragraph for its suggestion that there are other points of view in relation to the beautiful.

“The vultures of Asia have all but disappeared while few people were paying attention and the vultures of Africa are in trouble as well. The fate of these birds, and the fate of the ecosystem they are essential to, and which is in turn essential to many people, still hangs in the balance. It is a teachable moment in how we need to understand the world around us: not only those things that are beautiful and give us pleasure, but even those that seem, as Charles Darwin said of the vulture, disgusting. Sometimes beauty is simply waiting to be understood.(from, The Wonder of Birds, by Jim Robbins, 2017).

I love that. Once again we are reminded that everything is connected to everything else and everything is needed for its unique self.

  • What seems beautiful to you?
  • What role does beauty have in your life?
  • Have you been damaged by other people’s notions of beauty and ugliness?
  • Do any of your own notions of beauty diminish you or your relationships to other living things?
  • Can you find beauty everywhere?
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