Monday, August 24, 2015

Be Touched By Beauty ...

In difficult times,
you should always carry
something beautiful in your mind.

Blaise Pascal

Hello, everyone!

I'm back to posting again after a wonderful summer vacation filled to overflowing with beautiful moments like the sunrise above.

Sadly, not everyone has been as fortunate. Many of you have had to work long hours the summer through, whether as professional care providers or family carepartners, filling in the gaps as others went on vacation or services were cut back. Others have been devastated by the effects of the wildfires that continue to burn throughout the country. (I can't even imagine what it would have been like to try to provide complex care at home while waiting to be evacuated at a moment's notice.)

When circumstances such as these cause us to become exhausted and depleted or when our hearts are broken open by grief and uncertainty, we can find ourselves unexpectedly supported and uplifted by beauty.  We can be deeply touched and calmed by the artistry of nature, the vitality of the fine arts or even the beauty of an ordinary day.

At some of the most difficult times in my husband's long illness, we were gifted with an exquisite awareness of the beauty around us. Whether looking at the diamond dew on the grass outside the bedroom window, listening to the strains of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, reading the poetry of Basho or gazing at sun-infused jars of red plum jam sitting on the kitchen table, intentionally focusing on beauty invariably lifted our spirits and brightened our days.

Celtic poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue, wrote in his book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace -

There are times when life seems little more than a matter of struggle and endurance, when difficulty and disappointments form a crust around the heart. Because it can be deeply hurt, the heart hardens. ... Yet though the music of the heart may grow faint, there is in each of us an unprotected place that beauty can always reach out and touch.

He goes on to say that how we look at things makes a huge difference to what we see. We need to "beautify our gaze", to be ready to glimpse beauty anywhere, so we can see life in a new and vital way. When we beautify our gaze, the gift of hidden beauty becomes both our joy and our sanctuary.

We now know that perceiving beauty affects brain physiology as well as our emotional hearts. A study by Professor Semir Zeki at the University College of London in 2011 found that when uninitiated people were exposed to the art of Old Masters like Constable, Rembrandt and Monet, blood flow to the parts of the brain associated with pleasure and desire, immediately increased up to ten percent - a reaction similar to falling in love!

So, how, then, can we begin to "beautify our gaze"? First, by opening our eyes and ears to seek out loveliness in all we see and hear. Then, by taking the time to savour that beauty, to be with the experience and to let it sink deeply into our hearts. When we follow this practice, it is as though we sensitize ourselves to beauty and, thus, open ourselves to it even more.

Of course, there may be times when our surroundings seem distinctly un-beautiful, despite our beautified gaze. In such cases, we can actually carry beauty into the landscape with us. I recently came across a postcard of an 18th century painting called Winter Landscape that I carried with me as a bookmark during the last years of Derrick's life. I often spent time in doctors' offices and hospital waiting rooms gazing into that peaceful scene. The beauty of the rural winter sunset transported me, with no effort at all, to the peace and calm I'd experienced in evening landscapes like it many years past.

Beauty is both a joy and a sanctuary but sometimes we can forget to open our eyes and ears to perceive it.  So, why not take some time today to intentionally, "beautify your gaze", to allow the loveliness of something around you (no matter how large or small) to touch your heart?  Do it several times and see what a difference it can make to your outlook.

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