By Brian Luke Seaward
The best time of year to see the northern lights above the arctic circle is during the weeks around the Spring and Fall equinoxes. I was once told that the phenomenon has something to do with the position of the Earth’s axis and the geomagnetic storms of electrons coming from the sun that interact with the atmosphere around the north pole. It was a lifelong dream of mine to see this stunning display of color and light, and in September of 2016 I booked a flight to Fairbanks, Alaska so I could surround myself with the luminous beauty of what’s also called the Aurora Borealis.
The first night I ventured out there were some faint dancing lights on the horizon. But no words can describe the extraordinary beauty of the second evening – from the eastern to the western horizon there was a flood of brilliant, flowing lights that spanned the color spectrum from emerald green to pink to purple with some hints of red. It lit up the sky for hours. My camera lens wasn’t wide enough to capture it all, but good enough to take some photos that will help me keep a lifetime memory of being surrounded by beauty.
Rembrandt, Georgia O’Keefe, and DaVinci, each in their own way, are recognized around the world as great artists, but they cannot hold a candle to the creative efforts of Mother Nature. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there are many, many examples of what we consider beautiful, but when we experience more than appreciation, when we feel wonder and awe and gratitude, beauty becomes something transcendent. For me this was a spiritual experience.
To hear the melody of a Puccini aria, to smell the fragrance of lavender or roses or basil fresh from the garden, to touch the soft fur of a kitten or puppy, to walk the aisles of Chartres Cathedral, these experiences that involve the senses only begin to capture the essence of beauty found in so many wondrous corners of our planet. Experiences of beauty can take your breath away and leave you feeling grateful, and inspired.
Like so many people, my “go-to-place” to find beauty is the world of nature. What I can see, feel, and sense helps to give me a sense of order at times like these that seem to be filled with societal craziness. One sight of hardy Spring flowers covered in snow, an inhalation of damp balsam pine at sunrise or sunset, one note of a robin’s early morning song, can give me a glimpse of what’s right with the world. Many people can have the same experience through human-created beauty in an art museum or while seeing the architectural wonder of buildings like the Taj Mahal, or in places like Machu Pichu or Angkor Wat. Beauty, wherever it is found, can bring a sense of balance to the soul. It elevates consciousness beyond the banal and mundane and nudges the human spirit to its highest potential.
Beauty and creativity may not always be considered collaborative partners, but when the energies of these two align, the result is nothing less than pure magic. For me, photography is both creative expression and a spiritual practice. The moments with my camera are when I seek to capture the beauty of nature and share it with friends and family, whether I am photographing breathtaking vistas or the most adorable wild life. Whatever I am seeing gives me a chance to appreciate both the beauty and creativity of our planet. Not only does this hobby get me out in nature, but it allows me to savor the moments for days, weeks and months to come. While many people today hold a camera (or smart phone) in hand and quickly point and shoot, I follow the suggestion of beloved nature photographer, Galin Rowell that we develop the ability to capture the beauty of light.
Where one finds beauty, creativity is not far behind. In fact, it’s hard to appreciate beauty and not immediately become involved in the creative process. We can get caught up in wondering what gave birth to the iridescent colors of the hummingbird’s gullet or the fragrance of gardenias or even the detailed artistry of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Or, we can become lost, as I was, in the extraordinary flow of color in the northern lights. Truth be told, the human mind has searched for eons to determine the essential elements of the creative process, only to come up short every time. It’s more than a collaboration between right- and left-brain thinking processes, more than a synthesis of abstract ideas and tangible details. The creative process is unique, an alchemy of inspiration and perspiration that can unfold to reveal something divine.
Although we experience beauty through one or more of our five senses, perceiving and absorbing pleasant sensory stimulation, each person’s threshold for beauty is unique and our appreciation of it may take years and years to cultivate. However, what may appear to be the result only of an interaction between what we sense and how we think, there is another necessary step for truly meaningful appreciation. In the words of Antoine de Saint Exupery, the author of THE LITTLE PRINCE,
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
We need to involve our hearts as we engage in seeing beauty and becoming creative.
There is a second profound aspect to creativity, one we don’t usually consider – in the Summer of 2020 horrific forest fires ripped through the lush forests of the Colorado Rockies, crossing the artificial boundary into Rocky Mountain National Park, not far from where I live. The result was the untold devastation of many forest glens and valleys. As the town of Estes Park was first put on alert and then given orders to evacuate, I tried to take comfort in a quote by Pablo Picasso,
“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
Several months would go by before I could see the inherent wisdom in Picasso’s message. Although, like the recovery from the Yellowstone Park fires, it will take years, if not decades, to see these forests return to their once pristine splendor, we can already see that the fire-ravaged meadows now host lush green vegetation which has attracted scores of elk, deer, and even coyotes. I was surrounded by new beauty and it was heavenly.
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Brian Luke Seaward, PhD., is the author of STAND LIKE MOUNTAIN, FLOW LIKE WATER and other books about stress and human spirituality. He has written many WINN posts that can be accessed on the home page under By Author. He is the executive director of The Paramount Wellness Institute located in Boulder, Colorado.
Please visit his website: http://www.brianlukeseaward.com.
The photograph of the Aurora that leads this post was taken by Luke, south of Fairbanks, Alaska.