Abundance means little without beauty, so today I’ll share the most meaningful gift I ever received.
I was 4.
Dad and I were walking through Lafayette Park in Detroit City on our way home from the store.
We had just reached the end of the sidewalk when my dad said “Stop.”
I looked. “It’s grass, dad.”
I stared at that patch of grass for hours.
OK, only a minute, but my tiny attention span could barely contain it.
Then I saw it.
The grass was moving!
Not just because of a faint breeze, or a few ants walking among the blades.
Not just because of a drop of dew tracing its way down to the end of a leaf (my keen young eyes could see that it held tiny rainbows inside).
No, some blades simply moved, very slowly, all by themselves.
I’ll never forget the sparkling dew, the ants, the movement, the clover leaves, even the tiny yellow wood sorrel blossom. All in a space maybe three inches on a side.
Satisfied that I finally really saw it, Dad said:
“You will always find something beautiful that you never saw before, every day of your life, if you only look for it.”
Think about that.
If you can get beyond how obvious that statement seems, you’ll discover behind it a deep strategy for living.
In that one long minute, I woke up from categorical thinking.
I recovered some of the power of direct experience that had begun to fade as I grew.
My life had begun to layer up with categories, as all lives do. I needed them, as everyone does, to function and communicate in the sphere of ideas and abstractions that governs our lives.
But abstractions gradually come to stand in place of direct experience. Unchallenged, they begin a march toward prejudice.
That’s why we need moments not just of pure experience, but of beauty and wonder.
It’s a powerful habit to cultivate.
After all, both science and art advance through keen, devoted observation.
Creativity, connection and empathy also begin when you open yourself up to direct experience.
These awakenings can come at any time.
For example, I was walking with a friend when he snapped, “why are you walking so slow?!”
“I don’t want to miss the sunset.”
We walked on a few paces in silence.
Then he stopped dead in his tracks.
His arms and legs locked straight, he leaned back, and his eyes bugged out while he took at the sky,
“My god, Kev, that’s the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen! The whole world’s on fire. How could I have missed it? Are they all like this?”
I had actually started watching sunsets when I was in intermediate school.
It’s the main thing that had lifted me from bullied and failing and taken me to the Ivy League in 3 years.
Sometimes people would join me. Sometimes they would ask me to rate the sunset we were watching.
That never made any sense to me.
Here’s the thing about sunsets: They will surprise you.
Even in a complete overcast, the grays become metallic at dusk; the light actinic. Silver turns platinum. Just when you think it’s over, sometimes for just a few seconds, the whole world turns gold.
Which sounds better: ten minutes of blazing color, or ten seconds of sky alchemy?
Neither would be as beautiful without the other.
Can you see how this applies to people, too?
When we put away the categories and identity judgments and open up to each other’s inherent beauty, we transcend prejudice.
And we live richer.
You don’t need sunsets or grass or crowds to find beauty.
Any moment will do.
Recently, I put this to the test while holding down a couch for some friends.
I thought “Is there beauty in this moment? Can I find it without even moving my eyeballs?
I was staring at the floor of a darkened winery.
So I opened up my awareness and saw, on each antique, lacquered floorboard, an intricate lacework of gorgeous, bright stencils.
Over the next hour, I mentioned them to at least 10 people.
Not one person had seen them.
What have you been missing? Look for it. Every day. With all your senses.
And when you find something beautiful, I invite you to write something about it in the comments below.