I don’t see my daughter very often because she lives in Toronto and in September she will be moving to the USA for further schooling. But when I do see her, she seems to create a learning experience for me each time. I remember once I moved her to tears by depicting someone as ugly because of their particular physical feature. Without knowing I was linking the persons feature to ugliness. Since then I’ve been careful not to fall pray to this common illusion of linking some aspect of physical appearance to ugliness. We as a society do this all the time; obesity and baldness for example are quite often viewed as bad and therefore ugly.

What moved my daughter to tears was my blindness to destructiveness when I thought I was pursing the pleasant, the beautiful and the good. Just as Hitler believed that he was pursuing the “good” by  the creating a more perfect society with more perfect people and left millions suffering and dead. And he was a vegetarian because he hated cruelty to animals!

Indeed, that is the very nature of the problem, that in the name of seeking the best and the most beautiful, we became out of control. I don’t know of anyone who has become out of control by seeking “ugliness.” But surely, ugliness is just our conception; being overweight and being bald is just outward appearance; inside they could be the most beautiful people, we just have to look deeper.

Some cultures today believe that our Western society has become out of control in the name of pursuing the the “Good.” Indeed, they think our devouring, polluting and exploiting ways are evil. There may be element of truth in that but one has to be careful in making these kinds of sweeping judgement. There is also lot of good in the West.

The compassionate point is to focus on what is common to all of us: that we struggle with our own feelings and urges, that we can open our eyes and not be deluded by the false realities we are creating around us.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

What is beauty and Why is it important.

Most people can appreciate beauty but cannot explain it. Over time our notion of beauty has changed.  What once an experience that was considered to be beautiful may not be considered beautiful today. Being thin with a flat belly is experienced as beautiful today, but in the middle ages having a little belly was considered to be more beautiful. The rap music, not long ago wasn’t considered beautiful, but young people today seems to think it’s beautiful. I am sure our view of which experiences are beautiful and why they are beautiful will continue to change. This is because beauty is continually being affected by our past, our culture, and our personal growth. Because of this very nature it is difficult to define.

There is no definition of beauty, but when you can see someone’s spirit coming through, something unexplainable, that’s beautiful to me.  Liv Tyler

 What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many thingsAlbrecht Durer

 You can’t really say what is beautiful about a place, but the image of the place will remain vividly with you. Tadao Ando

 Indeed, there are strong opinions on whether beauty should even be defined. Howard Gardner in his book “ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed” writes…

Consider the testimony of fine-art scholar Laurie Fendrich: “ We who live in this speedy, diverse, more or less democratic society are, deep down, fairly suspicious of beauty. Beauty is based on hierarchy that labels some things undeniably ‘beautiful’ and others irretrievably ugly. Most serious, inventive, and ‘alive’ contemporary artists do not want merely to reiterate elements of this established hierarchy.

He further goes on to shared how one philosopher, his teacher Nelson Goodman, has proposed a path toward a solution. He writes…

Just as a certain number or combination of symptoms suggests the presence of a disease, so, too, certain antecedent features prove “ symptomatic ” of artistic beauty. When these features are jointly absent, one cannot speak of artistic beauty.

I like this analogy of diagnosing disease being similar process to ‘diagnosing’ beauty!! I do that all the time!

So, you may ask if the experiences of beauty resist definition and it is difficulty to explain then why bother with it? Well, according to Maslow the pursuit of experiences that are beautiful, are crucial for personal development to a higher state of being. Wayne Weiten in his book Psychology: Themes and Variations writes…

 Maslow argued that humans have an innate drive towards personal growth – that is, evolution towards a higher state of being. Thus, he describes the needs in the uppermost reaches of his hierarchy as growth need. These include the needs for knowledge, understanding, order, and aesthetic beauty. Foremost among them is the need for self – actualization, which is the need to fulfill one’s potential. It is the highest need in Maslow’s motivational hierarchy. Maslow summarized this concept with a simple statement: “ What a man can be, he must be.” According to Maslow, people will be frustrated if they are unable to fully utilize their talents or pursue their true interest. For example, if you have a great musical talent but must work as an accountant, or if you have a scholarly interest but must work as a sales clerk, your need for self actualization will be thwarted.

If you are still not convinced by Maslow’s theoretical concept of hierarchy, here’s what these authors’ Janice E. Hitchcock, Phyllis E. Schubert, Sue A. Thomas write in their book Community health nursing: caring in action, Volume 1…

 In addition to benefiting from incredible beauty found in nature, persons need to create things of beauty. Artistic creation and the enjoyment of others’ work can serve as media for inner healing from deep emotional and spiritual wounds. Artistic self- expression through movement and other art forms demonstrate healing in the interpenetrating processes and pattern reorganization of the person – environment interrelationship. Many cultures use the beauty of dance to restore balance and harmony and to promote health and wholeness.

 …Appreciation of beauty depends on one’s ability to perceive it and on one’s level of awareness, but these are difficult to assess. Maslow (1962) referred to appreciation of beauty as a self – actualizing process. It is unlikely, however, that only those persons whose basic needs have been met can respond therapeutically to beauty, as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might suggest.

 Because beauty is so important in our personal development it has been suggested by Howard Gardner that we should keep our own portfolio of beautiful objects and experiences. It would be our own record of idiosyncratic but deeply felt experiences and tastes.  It could be something we think that’s awesome, or something that gives us a tingle in the spine, or something we repeatedly wants to visit which invites further exploration, or something sufficiently powerful or evocative that it will be remembered.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Confucius

 We are learning, too, that the love of beauty is one of Nature’s greatest healers. Ellsworth Huntington

 The love of beauty in its multiple forms is the noblest gift of the human cerebrum. Alexis Carrel

May you come to your own concept of what is beautiful; that’s perhaps richer and penetrates more deeply for spiritual and physical healing.


Going Dutch-

“ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”  by Howard Gardner

Community health nursing: caring in action, Volume  by Janice E. Hitchcock, Phyllis E. Schubert, Sue A. Thomas

Psychology: Themes and Variations”  by Wayne Weiten

The journey begins for real health and happiness.

Where does one begin and start the journey towards real health and happiness? I think the journey needs to start with the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter, clean environment and water.  Without these one would just struggle to survive and real health and happiness will be just a dream. In Canada we are blessed and most people have these basic needs met.

When the survival is ensured we need to be free of disease and this is what I do in my office most days, try to keep my patients free of disease. I have been thinking for a while that just being free of disease is nowhere near the optimal health and happiness we are capable.

“Optimal health and happiness”, what exactly is it ?  It is probably best to start by stating what it is not.  Optimal health and happiness is not having a fantastic muscular body free of disease and having a smile on your face all the time, rather it is something to do with having enough energy, being able to do things you love without pain or discomfort, being able to make lasting relationships, being able to love and be loved, being able to be free of irrational fears.  It is being content, being able to negotiate through life ethically, compassionately and with ease, it is eating the right foods, it is about keeping active and exercising, it is to be in the right company that will nourish your soul, it is about having right thoughts, it about seeing reality as it is, its about making commitments, its about having good habits, its about being grateful, its about helping, its about accepting help, its about having good concentration, its about being able to see and live with your own thoughts, its about touching and holding your loved ones, its about appreciating nature and beauty , its about feeling beautiful inside even when on the outside things are tough, its about having a beautiful mind, its about connecting , its about being curious, its about listening to your heart and not just your brain, its about being comfortable alone by yourself, its about having enough rest , its about protecting yourself from information overload and noise, it about having spiritual life , its about having faith and about much more..

It seems that the happiness doesn’t come from external goods but rather it is cultivated over lifetime. To look for happiness outside oneself is a useless endeavor. We will talk more about this in the future posts.

Quotes without comment: –

“ We do not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of external goods, but external goods by the help of virtue.”

Aristtotle, Politics, Bk. V11, Ch.1  (4th cent. B.C. )

If you are in good emotional health, you should be able to respond appropriately to whatever situations you encounter: to feel appropriately happy about good forture and appropriately sad about bad, to be able to feel appropriately angry or frustrated about the state of the world and the annoying behavior of others and to let go of these feeling once you’ve acknowledged them. It is important to remember that our moods are supposed to vary through both the positive and the negative regions of the emotional spectrum………..It is near the balance point that you will find resilience, contentment, comfort, and serenity.”

Andrew Weil MD, Spontaneous Happiness  Ch.1 page 19 and 21

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