I look out the window of our den and notice the standing Buddha in the garden has a hat of moss, of both a light and dark green with a lighter tone on the right side of his nose. He also has a shawl of moss over his robes. Does it keep him warm? His smile is so calming and clear it draws me in. Then he seems to dance, or is it breathe, or maybe the whole scene is breathing as my eyes dance over him.
My breath and his are after all the same breath.
He looks so beautiful to me. Is this what beauty is, a quality of me or a way of relating to something or someone else, a quality of focus, attention, or breathing? A drawing in. And can everything in this scene or anything anywhere that draws us in be touched like this? There is a large stone behind him ⎼ rust, grey, green, and shaped like a mountain. It also looks beautiful. What about the bush, the tree, the flowers, the weeds? In the right light, the Buddha looks bigger than a mountain. But why does he draw us in?
We say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe it’s this quality of attention of the beholder in the specific moment. Right now, is beautiful. I had a plan for this morning, but the Buddha took it over. Or maybe beauty did that.
Buddhism and other traditions say the separation we often feel between ourselves and others, between us the seer and what we see, is an illusion. But what does that mean? Can we feel as if we were the statue breathing? Is that possible? And who wants to be a statue? Instead, maybe it means that we live each inch of space occupied by mind.
We see something and think that statue, that person, that dragonfly or flower or car is over there, and I am here. But what about the air an inch from my face? Or the pavement I am standing on? What about the suffering we see over there or the injustice? The thing or person next to me is next to me all the way to whatever. Why separate the me here from the you there, the eyes from the eyed? Why forget all that is there between us linking us? Don’t we live the world we breathe in?
Maybe we separate because there’s hurt here or there, and over and over we re-build a wall to shield us from the pain. We all have hurts. But the wall can be more like a suit of armor we wear wherever we go. And everything we try to touch has the wall, the metal suit, standing in the way. All we ever touch is the inside surface of our armor and so we feel that just on the other side and way too close, a battle is raging.
Gently, consciously, we can find a safe way to name what we feel, or find a place of comfort inside as well as outside ourselves. By doing this gently, mindfully, our mind becomes gentler, and we perceive more consciously, and clearly.
Constantly, we are switching perspectives back and forth. We can easily test this. We can focus first on one object in our visual field, then shift to the background or the whole scene in which the object resides. In the former, we create a here and a there and skip over what’s between them. Who or what we appear to be arises only in relation to something or somewhere else. There is clear; we are not. But we easily lose sight of how one needs the other.
We know this so well, that we constantly compare ourselves to others. And how, when we look at someone else, they can seem so clearly themselves. But when we look for ourselves, we are a mystery. We have words, memories but nothing unchanging or permanent, and we easily forget that what is seen is as much a mystery as what sees.
In the second perspective, we are at the center and the whole spins around us. We are in the midst of everything.
If we can step back, take a breath, simply look, listen, and breathe in the whole scene, we can look until the looker disappears in the looking. Change perspective, change mind. And we notice what sits at the center is a view of the whole. Or to borrow from John Tarrant, a Zen Buddhist teacher who, in his book Bring Me the Rhinoceros: and other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, quotes a woman realizing she is “no-size.” Our body is one thing. But a self is beyond any size, indefinable, immeasurable.
And then, when we focus on any one thing, and we take it in, or let it take us in, we get up close and personal. There is difference, maybe, but no distance. We not only see but feel its indescribable nature. We feel more at home not only in the moment we perceive but as the being that perceives. What we thought of in the past as our armor, our mental and physical borders become, to borrow from philosopher Ken Wilber, not boundaries where separation is created and wars fought, but limbs that make touching possible.
We hug what we perceive with the act of perceiving and what results is beautiful. Even a touch, a hint of such a hug is massive. We gain so much by noticing this shifting of perspectives and the multiple dimensions of life it makes possible. In fact, without these differing perspectives, life would mean breathing out and then trying to stop ourselves from breathing in, which is impossible if we are to stay alive.
And maybe this answers the other question, of why there is beauty. Some say it is useful in terms of evolution. The beautiful bird, butterfly or human more easily attracts a mate. Beauty exists so the species can reproduce and live on.
But I think there is so much more to it. Maybe love and compassion are the other faces of beauty. Would we live on, or want to do so, without the sense of community created by love and compassion? And what about the smile of the Buddha? Does that also help us live on? A work of art can be bought, but not the sense of beauty.
And John Tarrant gives us yet another perspective⎼ “By their beauty, objects bring the eye of the beholder into contact with infinity.” I like that, too.
This post is republished on Medium.