Where is beauty to be found?
Our generation, like every other, busies itself to answer this question. Today, we spare no effort in making screens with the highest resolution in search of beauty that eludes us. LED LCD vs. OLED. Full HD vs. 4K. Maybe another thousand pixels on the screen would get us there. But let us jump across generations to the immortal words of the Roman Emporer, Marcus Aurelius. In his memoir, Meditations, he writes:
“Figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in the ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn bending down, and the lion’s eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars, and many other things, – though they are far from being beautiful, in a certain sense, – still, because they come in the course of nature, have a beauty in them, and they please the mind; so that if a man should have a feeling and a deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in the universe, there is hardly anything which comes in the course of nature which will not seem to him to be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure.”
The foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars. The ripeness of olives and figs. The brows of a lion. Those things jump straight out as I read those words. Let us try and put them in perspective.
Firstly, as emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world. His military campaigns took him to its spacious boundaries spanning the countries of Syria, Egypt, Greece, and Roman provinces along the Danube in Austria and Hungary. He administered the most powerful empire of its era. And yet, amidst his responsibilities, he makes the time and space to notice the beauty in an overripe fig.
Secondly, he mentions how if a man should have a feeling and a deeper insight, it allows him to see the pleasure of all manner of things produced in the universe. In other words, the ability to perceive beauty is a state of being that is cultivated.
Thirdly, we live in an era where most of us have witnessed the brows of a lion in its natural habitat in greater resolution and detail than any Roman emperor has. In our lives, we witness the beauty not merely of figs, but also mangoes, papayas, passion fruit, avocados, jack fruit, kiwi fruits, persimmons and a cornucopia of exotic produce from faraway lands. And yet, beauty remains just as elusive.
In effect, the beauty that we seek is right here. It has always been here. And it lies not just in the eyes of the beholder, but also in her mind, her heart and in the enthusiasm she brings to all manner of things in the universe. Beauty stares us in the eye, in every moment of our lives – in the exotic and the mundane, in the calm and the frantic and in every fig, olive or bending stalk of corn that we lay our eyes upon.
The important question, then, isn’t “Where is beauty?”. Instead it is “Can you see it all around?”
Inspiration: Meditations – Marcus Aurelius