At the viewpoint, the waves glistened in the morning sun as it rose over the forested hills. The fog hung over the beach so that each ridge on the rocky coast was highlighted in silhouette. A tourist approached and said, “It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that.” Then he took his snapshot and left in a matter of seconds.
He was fortunate that he had the opportunity to view such a lovely sight and that he could appreciate it for what it was, but how much more might he have enjoyed it had he spent a few minutes really seeing it.
People see beauty differently. Some people get all excited in autumn when the trees turn colors. They plan trips to see the colorful leaves. Others scarcely notice. The color and form of a bouquet of flowers fills one person with emotion and another just wonders how much it cost. A painting or sculpture can capture some people, and others are left unmoved. We may rush through a museum taking in as much as we can, as if we were in a contest, or we may skip the whole thing because it just doesn’t appeal.
Biology probably accounts for some of the difference in how we perceive beauty. Colors look brighter to some people than to others, for instance. And if we weren’t exposed to a variety of sights and sounds as babies, our brains may not have developed sensitivity to them. As we grow up, our parents and teachers either show enthusiasm for things, or they don’t, and we learn and form habits about what is worth attending to. If cooking was drudgery to mom, the child may grow up to be unmoved by a beautifully presented plate of food. If dad focused all his attention on caring for his prize roses, at the expense of parenting, the child may not see the beauty of roses, but may feel aversion to them.
Each of us perceives beauty differently, and we have it in our power to expand the field and depth of our perception. Our brains respond to what we do with it and where we focus our attention. Just because we are a few dopamine receptors short, doesn’t mean we can’t grow some more. Our capacities to experience beauty, as well as to have pleasure, humor and fun grow with use.
To experience beauty, we must be receptive to it. What if we expected it to be all around us? What if we could see the beauty in a mold pattern on a wall or in the rust pattern on the street?
First, assess your receptivity to experiences of beauty. Compare yourself to other people in this regard. Do you know people or know of people who seem to see beauty where you miss it? Do you think of yourself as artistic? If you don’t, you may have cut yourself off from the act of perceiving that is central to art. One doesn’t have to produce art to be able to appreciate it or to see beauty elsewhere.
Think about what is beautiful to you. Make a list. Do this with a friend and compare your lists.
Create the intention to open your mind to the experience of beauty. We don’t perceive beauty unless we are receptive to it. It is always around us, we need to just open our eyes with real seeing.
Slow down and use your senses. Beauty is not just visual. Beauty may be found through any of the senses. Take your time to apprehend that which just might give delight if fully perceived.
Meditate upon something that appeals to you as beautiful. It might be flower or a piece of pottery, or maybe a scenic view. Gaze at it. Take it all in. Let it fill you up. Relax into that appreciative state that is perception of beauty. Just have the experience.
Notice what happens in your heart when you experience beauty. What happens in the rest of your body?
Sometime, when you are having that experience of appreciating beauty, observe your own state. What does this feel like. What are you doing, or not doing when in such as state? What did you have to give up to get there? What did you have to give?
© 2008-2012 Tom Barrett