Our world seems to get crazier by the day. We live increasingly accelerated lives. Our downtime seems to shrink by the second. If I don’t watch myself, I get mired in tunnel-vision, doggedly chasing deadline after deadline without taking any time out for myself or my loved ones. Add Trump, Brexit, the coronavirus, invasive social media, and climate change to the mix, and it gets darker still. Our democracies and even our privacy are up for grabs.
How can we hang on to any sense of inner peace amid all this chaos?
When the light seems to shrink to the tiniest pinprick, I find myself famished for beauty to nourish my soul. Not the kind of air-brushed glamour found in fashion magazines, but the deep, ineffable beauty of the immanent world that we can only see if we open our hearts and souls.
Moments of beauty can arise in the darkest moments of our lives. Once, over twenty years ago, I was living in Grafing, Germany–a lovely old market town on the far outskirts of Munich. As an aspiring young writer struggling to get my first novel published, I received a particularly dispiriting rejection letter one dark winter afternoon. Feeling utterly defeated, I went out for a walk out over the fields. I had just reached the Urtelbach Brook, which flowed freely, without ice, though the surrounding meadows were white with snow. Twilight was falling. And there, down the darkling stream, glided a pure black swan. This was a moment of heart-stopping beauty that lifted me far above my worries and woes. The moment came like a revelation of pure grace, emblazoning itself in my heart and mind, and completely eclipsing my memory of the rejection letter which drove me out into the winter dusk.
Inspired by this, I developed a habit of daily walks, regardless of the weather. Each walk became a quest, an opening to those moments of beauty that arrive like divine visitations. I believe that these moments of beauty are displays of the living presence of grace in our lives. They cut through the fog of our clouded thoughts and pessimism.
The true meaning of the word epiphany is a sudden and profound understanding, a striking realization, a breakthrough in how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. We can’t force epiphanies, but we can court them like an ardent lover by going out into nature or by experiencing dance, music, art, and inspiring literature. Most importantly, we can look within by establishing a regular meditative or devotional practice.
My black swan epiphany transpired in the 1990s in the days before I was on the internet. Fast forward to 2020 and we’re bombarded by digital media to the degree that we might spend more time wrapped up in the virtual world than interacting with the real-time world all around us.
Moments of beauty cannot grace our lives unless we pay attention. Mindful walking, meditation, and contemplation are the ultimate ways of paying attention, of opening our soul to the ineffable. You don’t have to belong to or believe in any organized religion. It’s enough to sit quietly and listen to that deep inner voice calling you home. The voice of your soul. Let the inner light reveal itself to you and illuminate you from within. A dedicated devotional practice ultimately leads us to the mystical. As Pico Iyer explains in “The Art of Stillness,” mysticism helps us root ourselves in what is out of time. The place where we are deeper and wiser than ourselves. Mysticism cuts through the noise of the world and shows us what is real. Dualism dissolves.
How will you court beauty today?
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for Mary’s newsletter or visit her website.