“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorites. It always reminds me of the fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.” The duckling claims his true power and beauty only when he realizes that he is, in fact, not a duck, but a swan. This realization occurs one day when he comes upon his real tribe, a group of swans on the pond where he is gliding alone. He thinks they, too, will reject and ridicule him as his duckling “friends” have. But, it was the opposite: they gather around him, welcome him into their fold, and naturally take him in as part of their swan family. He did not have to improve or transform himself. He just had to become who he truly was all along. He was always a beautiful, graceful swan. He only needed to change the way he perceived himself and accept who he was. And so it is with each of us. When we can find the grace and beauty that dwells in our hearts, we change the way we see ourselves. And this first step then leads to the obvious next: we change the way we see others. If we look within and find that vulnerable, astonishing, authentic self, we can then look without and see the same in others. In this way, we grow and become what we already are–beautiful and gracious souls. And holding that understanding of beauty in our hearts is how we change our lives without changing our essence.
The last lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Swan,” seems to sum this up, at least to me:
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
Once we feel beauty in our hearts, we can see the connection with everything around us. It will, and it most certainly does, change our lives.
Author photo: Winter 2015