What If Beauty Is Everywhere?

Erin Roberts
April 30, 2023
5 min read
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How spending more time in the here and now is helping me see more beauty in the world around me.

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”

= Thich Nhat Hanh —

I started spending more time in the here and now recently. Very recently I must add. Because while I’ve read so many books on the importance of living in the here and now — and I do mean so, so many — I have spent most of my time on planet Earth either dwelling in the past or contemplating future. Living in my head in another time. Not this one.

But that’s all there really is isn’t it? Only this moment. This one right here. And then the next and the next after that. We only ever have this moment. And yet we’re so rarely in it.

“Life is a series of thousands of tiny little miracles. Be mindful of them.”

— Jeremiah Say —

I’ve long known that I need to live more in the moment. That it would make life better. And I have the tools to do that. In theory. But only recently did I truly experience what it means to live in this moment. Put those tools to work. In practice.

The other day I embarked on my daily walk on the country. I took my regular route that leads to the path along the river, then through fields and up a hill into the forest. As I did so, I concentrated on being in this moment. No music or conversations in my ears. Just sinking into the sounds around me. Focusing on being fully there.

Long before I got to the path itself, I rounded a corner and passed a flowering tree. One other many I’d passed already. But something made me stop and look. And as I did so, I noticed how beautiful the blossoms were. I just stared at them for what felt like a long time. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from them. They were so beautiful.

Eventually I continued on my walk but everything had changed. I could see the beauty in everything. The grass under my feet. The river flooding over its banks, unable to contain all the water flowing through it. Trees stretching far above my head, their branches like an archway in the sky.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

— Confucius —

And it wasn’t just the beauty of nature I became acutely aware of. I really did start seeing beauty in everything.

The other day on the train journey back home from London I saw beauty in all the neighhourhoods we passed. Rows of houses sitting tall alongside one another. Gardens brimming with evidence of life. Roads full of people going about their day. Even the streets themselves and the litter that lay strewn along the pavement.

Everything seemed beautiful to me.

In Peace In Every Step, spiritual leader and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh told the story of the what has become known as the flower sermon, given by Gautama Buddha to his followers:

One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.

I first heard this story several years ago when I started exploring who I truly am. But I experienced the meaning of that sermon for the first time just days ago. It’s not a state I am living in every moment, but now that I know it exists, I’m certainly going there more frequently.

Maybe it’s easier for me to see the beauty in my life because I live in comfort. That might be true.

But when I contemplate that, I remember so many passages from Man’s Search for Meaning by psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl that touched me. His words and the experiences he writes about have had a profound effect on my life. In Man’s Search For Meaning, one of many books he wrote in his lifetime, Frankl recounted how, even in the midst of so much suffering, he and his fellow prisoners still found beauty in the everyday:

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence, he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty.

In the passage that follows, Frankl describes how prisoners would often stop to point out beauty to one another during the course of their day. He recalls that one evening when he and others were resting after a day of hard labour a fellow prisoner rushed in to alert the group to a beautiful sunset. He describes what they saw as they stood outside:

Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, ‘How beautiful the world could be!’

How beautiful the world could be. How beautiful the world could be if we all lived more in the here and now. Or maybe how beautiful the world already is already. But we can’t see it because we’re living too much in our stories of who we are. Defined by our human egos. Identified with our human selves. I am this, not that. You are that, not this. Othering each other. Labelling ourselves.

But there are no labels for who we truly are. Our essential self defies labels. There is no other. Because we are not individual selves but the same one.

If we were all lived more in the here and now, communing with our essential selves, the true nature of who we are, would there be wars? Could inequality persist? Would poverty exist? Could there be anything but pure love? I highly doubt it.

Because if you are in touch with who you truly are — which is all things — how can you have anything but love for an extension of that? And as you live in the here and now you will literally feel that love start to pour out of you. I know I do. What might the world start to look like if we all lived in that place a little more each day?

Originally published on Medium here: