Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Does the forest even exist at all? Does it matter?

All we can be certain of is that which we perceive, and even that, half the time, is not what it seems to be. In an era of fake news, ad spends, right wing and left wing press, advertorials, and cultures of fear, it’s hard to even believe our senses much of the time. And when we are unable to be sure of what we are seeing, consuming, and even thinking, it’s hard to know where we can turn to find the truth.

When most information comes to us twice – first as the information, and secondly as the agenda within which is it served, we must decide for ourselves what is real or not, what we can believe or not, what our story is. As Plato said, two thousand years ago, “reality is created by the mind, we can change our reality by changing our mind” – and so if the universe can be whatever we decide it to be, then isn’t it about time we decided?

Do we believe the story about ourselves that others have created for us? The undermining criticism levied at us for doing something, by those who are doing nothing? Do we let our identity be shaped by our failings and our fears, our world defined by all the things that are wrong with it, our future defined by all the times we let ourselves down, or we were undermined by those who sought their success at our expense?

Or do we seek out our strengths, our beauty, the beauty of the world around us, and alternate ways of seeing and being, in order to create a vision of the world filled with magic and joy?

Andy Warhol famously stated that “everything has beauty, but not everyone can see it.” He should have known – as an artist he was one of us who had the privilege of seeing through to the other side. He had seen things that couldn’t be simply touched, or measured, or bought. He had been brave enough to break away from the rules of the surface world that we find ourselves in, with its office hours and its January sales, its status based on possessions, its taxes and legislation. He had stepped outside the boundaries of our agreed capitalist norms, and had chosen to engage with another way of seeing.

From the age of about eleven onwards, we are told what reality is. It is measurable. It is provable. It is ‘out there’ where you earn money, you sign contracts, you turn up every day and log on. Reality is quantifiable. It is defineable. It is the routine that we immerse ourselves in so that one day we might have nice things, a nice life, some sort of self-worth.

But this doesn’t explain art. It doesn’t explain sport. It doesn’t explain music, love, laughter. It doesn’t explain all those things that are so vital and powerful, yet serve no functional purpose. I’s not just about keeping us all sane so that we can keep functioning at work and paying our rent. These things are a recognition that our day to day reality is only one part of the picture.

We are born with imaginations. We spend much of our childhood in an existence that is a mixture of the real and the imagined. We construct worlds, friends, stories and immerse ourselves in them, both physically and mentally. But as the human world shapes us, and takes command of us, our focus is increasingly required in the physical part of reality, where money is made and solid things are measured.

Artists are celebrated when they gain fame or fortune, but until then they are wasting their time with flights of fancy. Music is a hobby or pastime until it pays. Daydreaming, once a doorway from one world to the next, is a frivolous waste of time. We’ve got bills and responsibilities.

Yet this other world, the one we are increasingly encouraged to turn out backs on as the needs of the grownup world become more important, are just as real as this one that we walk about in, drink coffee in, drive cars in.

There is a spectrum of existence, awareness and being. It starts all the way out there, at the farthest reaches of the universe, from where we appear smaller than a quark or a gluon. Out there the trivialities of our politics and our early bird specials are less than meaningless. But then it zooms in. Galaxies fly past, gravitational waves, local clusters, supernovae, black holes, until it reaches our Milky Way. Somewhere in there, amongst the billions of stars and solar systems, is our collection of planets. Fly past Pluto, past Saturn and Mars, and there’s Earth.

There we are, sat at our desks, or in traffic, or queuing up in McDonalds for our McFlurries. Zoom in further and you start to see the worry lines on our faces, or the subtle smiles as we remember that thing our beloved said to us last night. Closer still, past the grey hairs, and the skin and the organs, past the blood cells and the mitochondria, and you start to see the individual chemicals and compounds that make us up, the DNA, the RNA. And then the atoms, the protons and electrons, the subatomic particles, all vibrating away.

But turn skyward, and follow the electrochemical charges along the neurones, and watch as physical energy gives way to electrical energy, which gives way to mental energy. Watch as vibrations and ionic differentials become visions and dreams, and mental images. Watch as our physical reality becomes the reality within, and everything becomes infinite.

The world within us, which we access through art, through those flow states of exercise, creativity, meditation and focused awareness, is real. It exists, and when we dip into it we can bring things back which help us create new works, give us new insight, new levels of love and compassion, of performance and productivity. This other world is just as valid, and just as real as the one where we set our alarm ten minutes early just so that we can hit snooze before getting out of bed and starting the day.

This other dimension of perception and awareness is there, we are born with it, it never leaves us, but it becomes so hard to dive into. Yet, it’s bigger than the other side of what Jung called the “threshold of consciousness.”

If we can dip into it from time to time, if we can see it as a continuation of this physical world, use it as a tool, a refuge, a playground, a place for experimentation and growth, then our universe becomes bigger. The moss growing on the garden step suddenly begins to shimmer and shake with a previously unknowable energy. The politician spreading hate and the bullying boss suddenly reveals the pain and sadness that drives his aggression. We see deeply into the hearts of the world, the universe and everything becomes light.

When we see this spectrum of realities, this infinite continuum of being, our boundaries break down. Not just national borders, but also our physical selves. The places where we end and the outside world begins becomes abstract, and our interactions with everything and everyone become profound. Every breath, every touch, every sound and every moment became laden with infinite magic, and we are released of our burden of identity. Suddenly duality dissolves and we become one with our surroundings, moving within them like the eddies and currents move within the ocean.

Life is beautiful if you know how to look at it. There is magic everywhere if you try to seek it out. And when you start, the universe will open in front of you, but mostly, within you.