This morning I was heading to work and I became aware that I wasn’t letting the world in.
Right now in New Hampshire, where I live, it’s late spring or early summer, and the trees, of which there are many on my route to work, are resplendent. Last night’s rains have left the greens and purples of the leaves rich and saturated, and the world is alive and vibrant. And yet for a few minutes it was as if I was seeing this through a filter that stripped out all the beauty. And in a way I was; the filter was my mind, clouded by preoccupations. With this filter of self in place, I saw the world, but didn’t allow myself to resonate with its aliveness and beauty.
Some part of me recognized that I was impoverishing my experience, and my thinking dropped away and the world’s beauty came flooding in. It was a deeply enriching and satisfying experience, just noticing and appreciating all this beauty as I moved through it. Everything was beautiful. Everything.
I’ve been noticing, since starting to practice the mudita bhavana (the meditation in cultivating joyful appreciation) that I’m becoming much more appreciative.
Yesterday I was walking to my local cafe, and saw Larry sitting on a doorstep, having a cigarette. And I was struck by how much I liked the style of his baseball boots. They were attractive in themselves, but the shape and color of them perfectly complemented the rest of his clothing. So I commented on this, and we got into a conversation about them; he said they’re cheap shoes, but that he really loves them. It seemed like he was pleased to have permission to like his shoes.
In the cafe, there was a new display of five paintings by a local artist. They were all good, but three in particular were really excellent. And the way that the paintings had been displayed was beautiful, and I couldn’t help thinking that those particular artworks belonged in that space. So I shared that with Michelle, the cafe’s owner. It’s good to share what we appreciate.
And Michelle herself is a lovely person, and I noticed that there was a touching vulnerability about her, like she was perhaps feeling a bit down, but was dealing with it in her usual patient and kind way, staying calm and graceful while under pressure.
The filter of “selfing” seems to be dropping away, and beauty is being allowed in. “Unselfing” allows esthetic appreciation to take place. It allows the heart to resonate.
So I’d suggest, from time to time, just dropping your “selfing” activities; drop those filters of self-preoccupation and let the world’s beauty in.
I wonder if beauty is simply the meeting of the world and an appreciative mind? There can’t really be an experience of beauty without a complementary experience of appreciative awareness. I didn’t experience the trees as beautiful until I dropped my filters and appreciated them. And in some sense there seems to be no such thing as “objective” beauty. When we have an appreciative mind, it can seem as if everything is beautiful. It’s not just the obviously beautiful things (trees, flowers) that you can resonate with. Even cracks in concrete, a crumpled Coke can that a car’s run over, a pair of cheap baseball boots, a pile of dirty dishes can be received with appreciation and so have their own beauty. True, there are some things it’s easier to appreciate, and therefore to see as beautiful; for example we’ve evolved to have positive responses to nature. And there are some things it’s hard to appreciate; it’s hard to see a facial deformity without wincing. But it seems anything can be seen as beautiful if we look the right way.
Even brokenness can be beautiful. A few weeks ago I dropped my iPad mini and the screen cracked right across, diagonally. Perhaps because I’d been doing lots of lovingkindness meditation, this didn’t bother me at all. When I look at the screen I find I like my iPad more, not less. Mine is the only iPad that’s cracked in that particular way. It’s unique, and lovely. Interestingly, when other people see the crack they’re aghast. They react as if I have broken every limb in my body. But to me, there’s something lovely about this crack.
The Japanese have an art called kintsugi. When some ceramic household object, like a favorite teapot, breaks, it’s repaired with gold resin, so that the cracks are highlighted. Objects repaired in this way are seen as more precious and beautiful than undamaged items.
This makes me think that everything is cracked. As Leonard Cohen said, “There’s a crack in everything.” And appreciation seems to have the ability to make things whole again, to fill the cracks with gold.