By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
We live on a planet of blue-white skies, azure seas, lands of gentle greens and browns: beautiful Earth. This is our Earth of infinite beauties in rocks and rills, butterflies and flowers, furry creatures and young girls. Listen to the songbirds. What is the meaning of their music? Hear the wind gently swishing in the sycamore trees? What is the wind’s secret message? You may say the wind just blows. The flowers bloom to attract insects. The young girls seek mates. The furry creatures want warmth and protection. True, but the real appreciation of beauty is what makes sense out of living.
We are conceived, we are born, and we grow struggling for survival most of our days, seeking food, shelter, money, security, and a mate to propagate our species. We study in schools for many years to acquire skill or profession; we train and work at jobs for many years for that security we must have; so did our ancestors and so will our descendants as long as the sun shines on Earth. All this is done for survival, but what is the purpose of surviving for me as a person and for my kind?
We survive for the sense of beauty and without beauty life becomes senseless and soon ceases for some of us who are sensitive to ugliness as well as to beauty.
Surely the peacock dresses up in gorgeous plumage to seduce the peahen; but why is the hen attracted to this beauty? Scientists have an explanation for this too. A better and bigger display is associated with a stronger, healthier, more vital male, capable of siring healthier offspring. Beauty then is life itself. A beautiful face is young, smooth, clear, indicating health. But then we have beautiful Mother Theresa with all her wrinkles and parched skin.
Wrinkles too can be signs of something elegant, the expression of a beautiful spirit.
Perhaps the source of beauty is spiritual worth. Beauty is then a ray of light from heaven, a dimension of perfect peace and joy. It is no wonder great art often springs from religious themes. Art is beauty made by humans. Artists carry large reserves of beauty within themselves and they are compelled to express it, share it with others. Pigs may not be interested in beautiful things, but some of us humans are. We live for beauty or not at all. Because we know death, our own end and our children’s end, we need beauty today.
Yet, we go through most of our lives enmeshed in the machinery of survival. We work at humdrum jobs eight hours a day for years and decades. We down our bacon and eggs, brush our teeth, shower quickly, throw our clothes on, then jump into our cars and join commuter traffic to factories, shops and offices. Tired and disgusted at the end of a long day, we sit down in front of the TV, munching junk food, and escape life.
Is life something from which to escape or something to relish every moment of the day?
Relishing beauty we use our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste—and a sixth sense, the gate of the soul. It is not in colors and tones where beauty resides, pure and clear though they may be. It is in the patterns, the structures, formed from these elements. And it matters not what the sense gate may be; it is only a gate to the mystical world of beauty. All the senses are equivalent; it is the pattern that matters. The pattern impresses itself in the brain and reaches down to our organ of sentiments, feeling, emotions, and strikes chords of beauty. We cannot know why that is so, any more than we know why some of us sense the presence of God, angels, and Heaven in our innermost self.
True, beauty is the eye of the beholder; it is subjective. A mother sees her ugly duckling as beautiful, but we don’t. Then art and the enjoyment of things in Nature do indeed follow fashions and tastes, which come and go. Yet there are some universal values in aesthetics, otherwise we would have no museums collecting works of art from all cultures and ages.
Outside of fashions, regardless of personal taste, in spite of cultural bias, some principles of true beauty reign supreme in the minds of humans and some animals. A rectangle is more appealing in certain proportions as the ancient Greeks discovered. Symmetry plays a role; and so do certain asymmetries, which broke monotony, stimulating excitement. Certain repetitions, echoes, cycles, or harmonies in the sense patterns please us better. They strike some mystical chords in our minds and transport us to a magical dimension.
Surely sexual motives employ some of these pleasing patterns. Sex uses beauty for the survival of the family, society, and species. Health is often associated with beauty too. But we know our own lives our family, nation, world, and the whole universe will be extinguished in the end. Beauty existing in a moment (when the rose blooms, when the poem whispers) lives forever. After all, survival is fine, but to what end? There has to be an end reward somewhere in life for our struggles to survive. The final purpose for our lives, which we find in many different occupations, is the enjoyment of beauty, romance, and magic—the mystical dance of existence.