Monday, February 8, 2010

The Beauty that Surrounds Us

Some friends of mine are planning a movie night, and the movie chosen is "American Beauty" - one of my all-time favorite films. There's a famous scene in it with a plastic bag floating around, and the character Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who had videotaped it says, "That's the day I realized that there was this entire life - behind things. And this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever." and "Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."

It's times like that when I think we get a glimpse into nirvana. When your mind is calm and focused, and you view something simply the way it is, without clouding it with preconceptions, assumptions, negativity or attachment. A time when we are open to experience "mini-epiphanies". If we could only maintain that state! That kind of mindfulness is difficult for me, but I'm trying. I'm trying to be aware of the moment, where I am, when I am, what I'm experiencing, and especially how my mind is interpreting it. I'm so easily distracted, but when I focus, a whole new world opens up. And it's beautiful.

Beauty surrounds us. We just have to apply the time and effort to notice it. Even things that can at first seem gross or unnerving can be beautiful, if you take a moment to understand what the source of your aversion is, and where that thing fits in the natural, cyclical time-line of existence (or rather, our perception of existence).

What have been the "floating plastic bags" in your life? What things made you stop and observe, to be mindful, to experience the beauty in something as it is, the way that it is? I will randomly share some of mine here, in no particular order:
  • My children being born, including the necessary blood, sweat and tears.
  • The vastness of space on a clear, starry night.
  • The potential of a musical instrument, as it sits waiting to be played.
  • My grandfather's last moments in his hospital bed.
  • A wide-eyed baby trying to process all the new sights and sounds.
  • The hustle and bustle of people in Times Square.
  • The pulsating energy at a techno-rave.
  • The wet spot on the bed sheets after sex.
  • A decomposing animal.
  • A hug from a friend who can tell you just need one, without needing to pry for details.
  • Accepting the pain of getting tattooed.
  • The soft curve of a nursing breast.
  • The moment just before an accident, when you don't have time to do anything to stop it.
  • The sunlight glistening through the trees just before sunset.
  • A spider wrapping a captured insect.
Several years ago I was driving to work and was listening to Coldplay's "Parachutes" album. The first track "Don't Panic" hit me unexpectedly. For whatever reason, I was open to experience something very powerful. I noticed every little detail of everything around me. I recognized each thing as it zoomed past, and then let it go without attachment. The rust on that car. The look on that driver's face. The color of the trees. The jet trail of the airplane. The dead deer by the side of the road. The bird carrying food to its young. The sun beams piercing the clouds. I was in tears, and like Ricky's, my heart did feel like it was going to cave in. "We live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do."