November 2010

Surrounded by Beauty


Odd as this may sound, I love movies about Prisoners of War. I am always inspired by stories that show people arising above the worst of circumstances, maintaining dignity, establishing bonds of friendship, and somehow managing to create something that feels like home. I don’t suppose my words here do justice to what POWs endure and achieve, and for that I am sorry.

I recently noticed in a film the extent to which the POWs went to create beauty in their barracks. Perhaps the need to be surrounded by beauty is a fundamental human trait. Ever since watching that film, I’ve been thinking more about beauty and what it is.

We notice beauty in nature, such as a waterfall or a sunset. We create it from natural materials, perhaps as a floral arrangement or a well-planned garden. We design and build it, whether the result is major architecture or a garden shed. We express it through our own talents, such as in music or cooking. Examples of beauty through nature and the arts are generally recognized and, though admittedly subject to personal taste, are universal.

There is also beauty within true human progress. As the Baha’i Writings indicate, "when divers shades of thought, temperament and character are brought together, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest." Accordingly, we are encouraged to promote beauty, whether natural or man-made, as a guiding principle in community planning. We are also encouraged to surround ourselves with beauty in our homes and daily lives.

The whole concept of beauty is extremely important in the Baha’i Faith. In fact, one of the titles by which we refer to Baha’u’llah is “The Blessed Beauty,” and we regard the creation and appreciation of beauty as a noble act. So what does beauty do for us other than delight our senses? In a profound way, it can touch the heart and inspire us to noble sentiments and actions.

There is beauty in human concord and peace. When we put pointless, wasteful prejudices aside, we discover that we are all are one in service to humanity. Much like birds that differ in outward form or color, we can learn to live together in peace and to love each other. An important requisite for this is recognizing the beauty in all people through a shift in values from exterior beauty to beauty from within, to value above all a person’s substance, character, and personality.

More subtle forms of beauty can be a smile, laughter, or a kindly deed. Surely every one of us can surround ourselves with — and extend to others - these simple, deeply satisfying instances of beauty.

I recently learned about the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. The members of this group of artists make their own musical instruments daily from fresh fruits and vegetables. I can’t say that I liked all of the music they played, but I found the idea itself so innovative and charming that I decided: Yes, that is indeed beautiful.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2010