Softening to Beauty
Joanie and I and our dear friends Kirk and Dee recently returned from a two-week adventure in Alaska – an immersion in some of the most visually stunning scenery I’ve ever encountered: majestic snow-streaked peaks, the azure blues of glacier ice, aqua-green glacial pools, vibrant hues of wildflowers everywhere, a circle of bubble-feeding humpback whales simultaneously breaching water’s surface with mouths agape, the impish smile of a harbor seal sunning on an iceberg, salmon struggling up a shallow sparkling stream to spawn, two weeks without darkness and countless shades of light.
The sensory delights were not just visual. We were treated to bracing breezes, the pure crisp taste of glacial ice and snowmelt stream water, birdsongs galore, trumpeting of whales, the roar of rushing waters, and the sharp, reverberating crack of glacier expansion.
For the first few days, I was absorbed in the awe of this amazing beauty. At some point, I noticed I wasn’t taking it in. Awe was slipping away. Even great beauty was becoming commonplace. Apparently, it’s not just in the routine of daily life that beauty gets overlooked. Even in Alaska, appreciation can dull. Experiencing beauty, then, may have more to do with what’s in here than it does with what’s out there.
I wondered if I had become saturated. Had I reached some sort of limit on how much I could receive? If so, how might I expand my capacity to receive, to stay engaged?
Over the next days, I made regular efforts to be present and aware. I noticed our traveling companion, Dee, finding delight everywhere she looked. I marveled at her capacity to enjoy.
Near the end of the trip, while in one of the more remote wilderness areas, we signed up for a 70-minute airplane ride which took us over mountains, alongside peaks and down through glacial valleys. Breathtaking beauty was present in a highly concentrated form – coming at me faster than I could manage. From my vantage point in the co-pilot’s seat, I looked intently - forward and down and right and left - trying to capture and hang onto as much as I could. I wanted to grasp the beauty and hold it, memorize it, claim it in some permanent way. And I couldn’t.
Finally, all I could do was breathe and relax and allow it to flow through me.
I’m left with musings about how we relate to beauty – beauty in nature, beauty in the people around us, the beauty of life itself. How do we stretch the capacity to connect with beauty, to more fully enter it and let it enter us, to more deeply feel it, to let it change us and, at the same time, to relax in its presence - releasing the desire to possess or control it and maybe even the need to name it or understand it or describe it or write about it.
Softening to beauty. Attending. Noticing. Making room. Allowing a flow. Trusting the flow.
And, in this case, trusting Kirk and Joanie to take gorgeous photos we can enjoy for years to come.