The phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” contains a hidden spiritual truth that most have never seen.
At face value, this phrase means that each individual perceives beauty differently. What’s beautiful to one is ugly to another. Beauty is subjective rather than objective. The common interpretation of this phrase is socially, spiritually, and artistically profound. It keeps us from limiting the concept of beauty to predefined characteristics. It allows beauty to possess an elusive and mysterious quality that keeps us ever reaching. I suggest that beyond the depth of this common interpretation lies a meaning that is deeper still.
A Spiritual Concept
If we understand beauty to be not just an artistic concept but a spiritual one, then Ultimate Beauty takes on the characteristics of loving enlightenment. People from every religion and tradition are seeking this beauty. Whether they describe it as salvation, enlightenment, recovery, insight, or some other term, they are describing the experience of Ultimate Beauty and love.
The Eye of the Beholder
No two people will have the exact same experience of Ultimate Beauty. It’s said that two people standing side by side see two different rainbows, because of the light reflecting differently off of different water droplets. Even the slight difference in angle between one person and another will mean that each visionary has a different experience of the same reality. The two might agree in theory that they are looking at the same rainbow. They could even agree that they are seeing the refraction of light into an arrangement of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These agreements represent what religions have in common with one another. The existence of a Supreme Being or Beings, morality, community—these are the things that religions agree on. But real Beauty, subjective and elusive in its ultimate qualities, is in the eye of the beholder. Each person has their own distinct relationship with the Divine that cannot be duplicated by anyone else.
Experiencing Divine Beauty
How can you experience Divine Beauty? The answer lies hidden in the phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Behold is actually a compound word, comprised of two words, be and hold.
To Be, or Not To Be
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, experiencing an existential crisis, spoke these famous words as he was contemplating suicide. Certainly, this is not the context for most who settle down to prayer or meditation—but the question is still, “To be, or not to be?” Simply being is a difficult task for many who have been programmed to spend their lives doing instead of being. If you want to experience Divine Beauty, first you must learn simply be.
Like Shakespeare’s character, most of us have monkey-mind. Instead of settling into silence, we ask ourselves “whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” In other words, we fill our minds with problems that need to be solved—with doing instead of being. Only by being can we experience Divine Beauty. Only by resting in the breath of non-action can we truly behold God.
Hold Your Horses
The second part of the compound word behold is, of course, hold. In its old English form, this word can mean to wait. The Online Etymology Dictionary adds that it means, “continue in existence or action; to keep back from action.” So, your grandfather told you to “hold your horses,” not meaning that you should grip the reins of your Appaloosas, but encouraging you to keep your internal, mental, and spiritual horses still.
The Etymology Dictionary also says the word means “’to keep, tend, watch over’ (as grazing cattle), later ‘to have.’ Ancestral sense is preserved in behold.” So by holding, you are attending to yourself. When you hold yourself, you cherish yourself as a prized possession. You can rest in your own embrace as you encircle yourself with lovingkindness and compassion.
In the Eye of the Be-Holder
Beauty is in the soul of the one who takes the time to simply be. In the heart of the one who holds. This phrase goes a lot deeper than we ever knew. By waiting and resting, by embracing and being embraced, we are able to behold the beauty of the Divine. I hope today you’ll allow yourself to simply be, and that your heart will be spacious enough to hold yourself, God, and the world.