Why Beauty Breaks Our Hearts

Have you ever felt sad while listening to beautiful music?

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Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Have you ever teared up while listening to a beautiful piece of music?

What about a movie? Have you ever teared up at a part that’s not exactly sad, like the end of the Lion King when they’re singing ? That one gets me every time.

Or, maybe you’ve stared up at the heavens on a dark night, understood the enormity of the universe, and felt a deep sadness in the pit of your stomach?

Admit it, something like this has probably happened to you at least once. But, why? Why does beauty evoke sadness in us? So much so that we are sometimes brought to tears?

I think that beauty and sadness are opposite sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other. They are connected, intertwined, inseparable.

This is why beauty sometimes makes use cry — because at their extremes, at their edges, beauty and sadness merge and become one. And this is worth noticing because we tend to push away sadness, to hope and pretend it will never happen, and then when it inevitably arrives it destroys us.

But, if we accept the inevitable sadness of life, perhaps we can change our perspective. Perhaps we can appreciate the beauty in it all.

All of life is loss

From the moment we are born loss is present. First, we lose the warmth and comfort of the womb. Then, we lose the convenience of being fed, dressed, and bathed. Then, we lose the innocence of youth. Then, we lose freedom from responsibility. Then, lose the ones we love. Then, we lose our muscles, our memories, our minds. Finally, we lose our lives.

Life is full of loss and it hurts to lose. Loss implies change, which can be scary, provoke anxiety, and cause suffering.

Yet, every human that has ever lived has endured a journey like this one. None of us will escape from loss. None of us is impervious to it, no matter how hard we wish it wasn’t so or ignore its existence.

So, what can we do? Confronting our inevitable loss seems impossible. Aren’t we better off shutting it out until it’s banging on our doors?

The crossroads of beauty and sadness

It is unlikely that being deluded about the truth of our existence is the wisest way to live. By ignoring loss or wishing it away, we are surely missing out on an important aspect of being human.

I think this is why we often feel sadness when experiencing great beauty. I think this is an innate emotional response that helps us to see a bigger, more complete picture of our existence.

It’s at moments of great sadness that I’m reminded of a quote from Kahil Gibran, which is one of my favourites:

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Here we see Gibran playing on the idea that beauty and sadness are opposite sides of the same coin. We are sad because what we have lost brought beauty into our lives.

It is this that we ignore when we shut out the inevitability of loss. We numb the sadness, yes, but also the beauty. We can’t numb one without numbing the other. So, we stop ourselves from really paying attention to what matters, from giving ourselves fully to whatever we’re doing.

When people find out they’re dying, how often do they change how they live? When they know time is short, people turn their attention toward what really matters.

Yet, we’ve all been given a death sentence, just not by a doctor. No, we’ve been given a death sentence by something more supreme than any doctor — the universe itself. We and everyone we love will die. Where and when that happens is unknown to any of us. Doesn’t this fill you with urgency? Don’t you want to tell everyone you love, “I love you”? Don’t you want to stop putting off what matters to you? Don’t you want to do good, rather than get more?

Don’t you see how beautiful and precious each moment is it will all end in sadness and loss?

One hundred billion humans have lived lives as vivid as yours. Each and every one of them has died. If only they had a voice, they would tell you that they wished they had started sooner — to have seen the darkness and the light, to have accepted the beauty and the sadness.

This is the great conundrum of our lives. To find the courage to see the precariousness of life and to live with the certainty that everything will be taken away from us — so that we may enjoy it all.

Written by

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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