aNewDomain — My friend and I got up early today and went for a walk. We’re in Breckenridge, a retreat for therapists and so on. Surrounded by incredible beauty and excellent company, and well aware of our privilege. Birds flit by on their own morning errands: woodpeckers, swallows, a beautiful little finch I’ve never seen before. Wildflowers are sprayed across morning hillsides and dew makes perfect pictures on heavy leaves.
We see a rock, a boulder. It is black and gray, the colors swirled together like colors of dye in a tie-die project, a fractal map.
I stop and stare at it, entranced, saying:
It looks like it is from a boundary layer, between sedimentary and igneous rock, the two layers all swirled up together.”
My friend tells me it’s just a pretty rock.
“Get out of your head,” he says.
Get out of my head? Where would I go?
It is possible to stand in awe of beauty and, at the same time, mentate. To see a tree full of locusts and wonder at it while also contemplating the biblical plagues or the tree Lu Xun overlooked while he translated Nietzsche.
To see a kind of flower that staggers your mind AND makes an emotional impression, while also wondering if it is a kind of carnation.
To be naive, and also to be a cognitive being. To see things and have words for them, categories. Associations loose and tight.
Awe does not preclude understanding. It only requires that we hold our understanding loosely.
Einstein suggested that science does not destroy wonderment, only gives us greater and ever grander things to wonder at. Flowers, a trundling beetle, the sound of the creek shushing eternally outside the window — these are awesome, tear-inducing things.
And also, because we understand things, the incredible glory of galaxies collide.
What it means is that the movement of constellations cannot be accounted for by the known mass of the things we can see. What it means is that a patent clerk, by closing his eyes and contemplating math, was able to understand that objects gain mass as they approach the speed of light.
There is beauty in the mundane as well as the esoteric, beauty in thoughts and words as well as the things they stand for. The trick is not to always mentate, to guard against beauty and the sadness that must follow such an experience by reducing it to facts.
The rock is not beautiful, but merely, only, the confluence of two layers of rock disturbed during their formation.
The color of that flower is not shocking but only, just, the color it must be to attract pollinating insects.
That woman is not a great beauty of her age, merely the product of evolution by natural selection, highly symmetrical features demonstrating the strength of her immune system and the coincidental pattern of the golden ratio pleasing the eye.
The trick is not to reject knowledge, mock intellect, or flee from sophistication for fear it will ruin our naive appreciation for beauty or for God or faith.
We need to stop worrying that thinking will make us worldly or cynical or trap us in our head when we want to live by our heart.
Because it will free us. And it is beautiful.
Image one and cover: jezebel.com, All Rights Reserved; image two: by Brad Schram [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons; image three: “Red coloured Hibiscus rosa-sinensis” by Babug – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.