Beauty and Kindness: Doorways to a Truer Place

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2007 issue of the Distinctions newsletter.

Beauty is not decorative. It touches us deeply, dissolves our conscious control, and connects us to levels of our being well beyond our day-to-day concerns. Beauty pierces open a sharp clear space in which we directly encounter the immediacy of our experience. We know ourselves at that moment as beauty.

Beauty can appear at any time. Walking a familiar street we may look up and see the moonlight glance off raindrops on a leaf, and the world opens—we might catch the profile of our beloved as they lay sleeping and we melt—on seeing a statue carved with delicacy we feel our own self fully—hearing a chord or a change in a musical piece, with no warning we plunge into state of clarity, order and wonder that our logical mind could never construct.

Beauty awakens us from the dull contours of our busy turbulence, of our so-important lives. The trance is broken. What is there? Where am I? Who am I? About all this we have no words to say, but we somehow arrive in a place where these questions are already/always answered.

We humans need beauty as much as air. Without it we exist only to survive and procreate (our genes, or our ideas, or our beliefs, or our portfolios). In a world driven to mere efficiency, we are in grave danger of forgetting this. We see the results of our forgetfulness at every turn: addictive behaviors, massive greed, devastating cruelty—the symptoms of soul death.

Kindness is not politeness. It’s the truest seeing and saying of what’s truest in our hearts. Kindness has no point beyond itself and seeks no gain or acknowledgement. Being expressed completes and fulfills it. Kindness, given or received, transforms the world into a place where we are known, held and belong.

We don’t have to work on ourselves until we are kind. We can begin just now with our next thought, with the next person who passes on the sidewalk, with the next email we respond to.

No need to wait for enlightenment. Kindness is the fruit, the fuel, the fiber of enlightenment. We become and enact the deepest wisdom when we are kind. We also eliminate all separation between us and other, transcend any inner conflicts and become peace. No one needs to tell you any of this; you keep finding it out for yourself.

But why is this article called “Beauty and Kindness”? To me they appear as having the same power: to be aspects of a more authentic reality and to be mutually overlapping gifts that free us from the constraints of our self-concern.

Recently a friend told me you could tell what people are stuck on, simply by being present with them—and most people are stuck on themselves. (I, of course, wondered whom he could be speaking about and why he was telling this to me.) Kindness and beauty, available to us in every minute, get us unstuck from ourselves.

Let’s check this out for a moment. Look around the place where you are as you read this. How many acts of kindness brought just the physical parts of the environment to you? How much labor, attention and persistence? Don’t get caught up in thinking you know “the real motivation” of the folks who did all that. Life can be kind to us through people who don’t know us. And do we really ever know someone’s true motivation (even our own)? Is the giving of anyone’s time, energy and attention ever compensated for by money?

We are being kind when we think this way, but we are also facing what’s true (they may be the same). Do you feel, do you see what this makes possible? We are the recipients of untold treasures. Centuries of kind acts are displayed in the physical situation we are in at this very moment—furniture, electricity, clothing all have taken the kindness of endless numbers of people to invent, make and bring them to us. We are surrounded by kindness all the time, and by merely opening to it we directly touch the boundless nature of reality.

Kindness is beautiful.

It won’t take much effort to see the beauty around us if we will slow down. Beauty cannot be met as itself when we rush—speeding past the statue of David just won’t do (although we do rush by to check it off our list of important things to do—again the limitation of being efficient).

Pick out anything where you are and look at it in a slow, concentrated way—see the colors, shapes and the play of light. Or listen deeply to whatever sound is present. Drop labeling the sound and just be present in hearing it freshly.

Is there anything except beauty when we are paying close attention? We did not produce it, but we receive the full benefit of it—being brought to somewhere that feels more real and more secure and more meaningful than the daily scenery we see in snatches, as we speed by on the race tracks of our lives. (And where exactly are these tracks headed?)

Beauty is most kind.

Kindness and beauty are with us all the time. Maybe we are kindness and beauty.

James Flaherty is the founder of New Ventures West and the Integral Coaching methodology. You can find his current writing here.

Photo by Joel Pilger on Unsplash