While visiting southern California recently I got to wander out into the hills outside of Wildomar and experience again a landscape similar to the one I wandered in as a child. At first glance the landscape seems semi-barren. Though there are few, if any trees, low chaparral grows in abundance, especially the beautiful red California buckwheat. The ants especially loved this plant, and numerous flower petals spread in a mandala around the ant holes. The flowers have a sweet smell, and the seeds are edible. At sunset, the light made each thing on the earth’s floor stand out distinctly. So much texture in the bark of broken shrubs, scattered rock. The hillside were alive with their blossom’s red rust blush. Truth, beauty, and goodness abound when we set out to notice them. Standing in the presence of beauty is too much for one person to hold. Overwhelming beauty is humbling and helps us to see our place in the vastness of all that is. It enables us to understand that the world is not ours, it is shared.
In the Harvard Gazette, Howard Gardner advocates revisiting the values of truth, beauty and goodness “suggests keeping lifelong portfolios of beauty, either in our brains or a physical catalog that chronicles the experiences, music, art, and more that we find beautiful over time.” I’m thinking of hummingbirds, how they feed frequently, coming back to the flower repeatedly in order to maintain substance. As we do this, what is beautiful, good and true expands in us.
With its wide valleys and minimal vegetation, southern California has a wonderful sense of openness, and the sunsets this summer carried me away into the ecstasy of their expansiveness, and the sense of freedom they invoke. The skies filled me with awe in the vastness they evoked. I wondered why everyone in the neighborhood had not thrown open the doors, and walked out into the arms of the world waiting for them to see the boundless beauty above and around them. The world is a wonder if we open our eyes to see it.
So many people today are wondering how to live well, how to find their center. Returning to Gardner, he states that what we need to do now is to learn how to behave not just for “numero uno, or for your neighbors, but for a wider public.” One start, I think, would be to consciously look for beauty in the world. Notice it, delight in it and share it, and thereby help others to lift their hearts into a deeper understanding of their own connection to life and to each other.