“Upon a day Beauty and Ugliness met on the shore of a sea. And they said to one another, “Let us bathe in the sea.” Then they disrobed and swam in the waters. And after a while Ugliness came back to shore and garmented himself with the garments of Beauty and walked his way. And Beauty, too, came out of the sea, and found not her raiment, and she was too shy to be naked, therefore she dressed herself with the raiment of Ugliness. And Beauty walked her way. And to this very day men and women mistake the one for the other. Yet some there are who have beheld the face of Beauty, and they know her notwithstanding her garments. And some there be who know the face of Ugliness, and the cloth conceals him not from their eyes.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
I have read this quote by Khalil Gibran more than a hundred times, I’m sure. I even wrote a song inspired by it at one time in my life. My feelings on Gibran’s words have evolved over the years. Initially, it was simply a story about trust, the moral being true beauty is often mistaken for ugliness, and vice versa. How many people have a story about a relationship ended that would echo that sentiment? Many, I’m guessing.
But in the context of spirituality and faith, I think this story begs to be interpreted in different times as we journey through our seasons of life. The easy message is obvious; so glaringly apparent that it touches our heart momentarily, sending the rush of emotions directly to our brain, which finishes the job of recalling a memory or two of when we first perceived something so beautiful, so innately good in every way that it seemed impossible to give any credibility to the notion that we would allow for even the slightest room for doubt.
I’m an optimist, and I believe that true beauty surrounds us every day. Sure, sometimes we have to look for it, pay attention, or even walk out of our comfort zone to see it – but beauty…true beauty is always just a step, a sound, a smell, or an unpredictable glance away. True beauty follows you around like a shadow and manifests itself in things like kids and people and nature. It also covers you up at night when you go to sleep, singing silent songs of remembrance as you drift off. And even then it can follow you into your dreams.
The flip side of Gibran’s words are so easy for us to ignore, at least temporarily. I mean, who wants to be reminded of a time when they trusted their heart and intuition, only to learn eventually that the beauty they once saw was a trick or a manipulated mirage that upon realization left us hurting or in emotional pain. No flood of tears or attempts at distraction or self-imposed “re-convincing” can erase that kind of masked ugliness. For that, too, is a shadow that follows us and surrounds us daily.
No doubt, if you set out looking for ugly falsely posed as beauty, you will find that quite easily, too. Each time we are witness to ugliness concealed under the outer shell of beauty, we are learning and being molded into the kind of person that begins to value discernment and trust of others. It’s at this point, I believe, that we have life-impacting decisions to make. And it no longer becomes about what we see, but rather how we choose to see it.
Perhaps even more important is what do you do with that?! Do we begin to trust others less, or trust ourselves more? If we are wise and honest with ourselves, I think we also use all of these experiences to become more self-aware. How much of ourselves do we see in our own reflection? Are WE wearing false garments, figuratively speaking, that put out something other than our true beauty? Or have we adopted the characteristics of ugliness, hiding the true beauty that lives within us?
Purposely peeling back the layers that make up who we are is more than wise, it’s a gift not everyone is given. And, hopefully, it becomes a tool we can rely on to improve ourselves and grow over time. When your intuition at 19 years old told you, “Hey! That might be a red flag!” That same intuition has the ability to mature and to develop over time, and can become master identifiers of red flags more quickly and with better accuracy. In that way, discernment becomes one more tool to add to our full arsenal of wisdom, self-awareness, and living with peace and happiness!
Khalil Gibran was a thoughtful man whose heart was deeply rooted in an emotional love affair with the power of observation. Most of us aren’t built like him intellectually or philosophically. But that doesn’t mean we should stop searching for depth in the words that he shared or fear the vulnerability that will leave us somewhat exposed when we do.
I say, step out of that imaginary box that appears to give you comfort and safety. Step out with confidence, at your own pace, and at times that may require even the tiniest amount of risk. Everyone will do that differently, and some will never do it at all – and that’s ok, too. But if you ask me, that box that is giving you a sense of security, safety, and comfort is also cluttered by neglected personal reflection and emotional self-care. It’s those untested confrontations that, with a little work, will turn imagined sources of comfort into real ones and free us to be our authentic selves.
Not sure how to start? Build a bridge that connects your brain to your heart; your intellect to your emotions. Specifically, wake up every morning, and before your feet hit the floor, make a conscious decision to seek out and focus on true beauty – no matter the who, what, where, or when. Don’t hoard those discoveries and keep them to yourself. Develop a habit of sharing them with anyone and everyone that very day if you can.
Before you fall to sleep at night, be grateful that you made a simple gesture to share beauty in your own way! Be excited that you will have the same opportunity again tomorrow!
Gratitude is often the result of making a deliberate decision to be happy. And where there is true beauty, there is always happiness. Look for it routinely, and you will find it everywhere. And then, you will become it.
And what about “ugly?” Ugliness, whether in the form of a hurtful person or behavior or silence that enables corruption, is always exposed in the presence of true beauty. Because where there is beauty, there is love. And where there is love, ugliness suffocates itself.