Humans have an inner compass that guides them toward beauty. The Japanese have a word for it, kachou fuugetsu which literally means Flower Bird Wind Moon but commonly translates to “experience the beauty of nature, learn about yourself”
Beauty is a flash flood in the desert. The blooming of fireweed and arctic lupine. Beauty is turquoise, milky glacial waters rushing past alpenglow mountains. A vulture soaring in a cloudless blue sky. A sun-bleached bone resting in the sand. The way wind whispers through the trees. The smell of dark earth after rain. Beauty exists within the small moments of solitude I am granted in nature.
I meander through a terrain of browns and greens amid a dappled blue and white sky. My fingers brush tall grasses and wild flowers still wet with morning dew. I hear a symphony of birdsong and inhale the scent of pine wafting on a fresh breeze.
In the afternoon, sunlight hits the clear water and the rocks underneath, coloring them golden. When I gaze at the spot and then turn to look further upstream, where some Sierra peak stands in the background, I know this soars to the spiritual realm that classifies as beauty, because every way I try to describe it misses the mark.
Beauty is kindness. It it the boy that holds out his hand to the bullied child on the playground. It is the man who buys lunch for the homeless. It is woman who rescues animals. The parents that open their hearts to an orphan. The community that embraces refugees. The girl who raises her voice to protect the weak. Beauty is the smiles that are sustained during the storm.
Beauty attracts. And not just organic forms of beauty. The motion and reflective properties of water; the arresting formations assumed by igneous rock; the vague, protean fleece or domes of cloud, the variable and mysterious lights in the night sky, and the regular rise and fall of ocean waves approaching the shore.
In my youth I was forever moved by Leonard Cohen’s poem, “Suzanne.” I wanted to be her, to be the one who showed others where to look for beauty in the garbage and the seaweed. Because I saw it, too. More than three decades later, I am still blinded by the beautiful in chaos, in clutter, in the flawed, the noisy, and the broken.
I often find beauty when I’m not actively seeking it. It’s like glancing sideways at a star. I take my dog out for a walk in the frosty January morning and look up to see brilliant streaks of pink and orange announce the rising of the sun.
I believe beauty is something we each have deep within and surrender to, rather than create. It is the affirmation of the self that loves and hates, and lives well and badly, at his/her/its own discretion. And anything created out of such beauty moves people, sometimes to the extent of changing their lives so that they will embark on the journey back to their own beauty.
I wept when I heard Brahms’ Requiem. Beauty pierced me, tears flowed. My stomach dropped when I watched the Joffrey Ballet. The empty space was filled with awe. We think our responses to beauty are personal, individual, but they are not. The shared experience of beauty links us to other humans.
I’ve been collecting moments of beauty, each one a loop interlocking with the next, like the construction-paper chains I made in childhood and again with my daughter. The most durable kinds of beauty, for me, arc from light to dark and back again. When a late-afternoon sun paints bone-colored tree trunks against a dark gray sky.
I see it when your face softens and you whisper sweet words. When you think you’re alone with God and you lift your hands in awe, I see it. When your hand touches with love, beauty shines.