What is Beauty?

Beauty – six letters, three vowels and three consonants, three syllables when pronounced – a round, fat, even lush “B” followed by a series of vowels, two that pair to create one sound and one that stands independent, punctuated with a “T” near, but not quite at the end…and finally ending in the lovely, particularly when written in cursive, and flowing “y.”

What does the word beauty mean to you? What do you consider beautiful? And do you consider it applicable to you? How do you respond to the question:

Are you the most beautiful person in the world?
Beginning in 2004, the photographic artist Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski posed this question to people around the world. He did so not knowing what to expect, how people would respond or even IF they would respond.

The question was asked in large advertisements placed in serious newspapers in 10 major cities around the world, asking readers who believed this to be the case to respond in writing with their reasons. Every person who responded was visited in their home where photographs where taken portraying how and with whom they were living. Finally, they were asked “Why do you believe you are the most beautiful person in the world?” and their responses were recorded.

Six years and a great deal of effort later, an amazing thing has resulted – a photo book of great spiritual and philosophical import, illustrating cultural and aesthetic differences and similarities among people living in various countries around the globe. But more than that – through his photos and the participants’ answers to the question “Why are you the most beautiful person in the world?” the artist has illuminated and expanded the ideas behind our notion of beauty. He has taken forceps to the concept, taken a closer look at an idea that is often expressed by a single six-letter word, something seemingly so simple and definable, and then, through the result of his investigation, challenges the viewer to examine their own limited ideas surrounding it. The book challenges our preconceived, culturally-imposed notions concerning beauty, while it sheds light on and expands our perception of a concept that, in the western world, has been squeezed down to Kate Moss-esque proportions by marketing and Hollywood-influenced media.

Michel takes us on a physical journey as well: to Africa where beauty is measured by the number of wives or head of cattle one has, the size of one’s belly or the skills possessed that put food in the family’s mouth; to China, where the beauty of a handicapped child is revealed through his love of song; and to Brazil where it is through her children that a mother sees her intrinsic beauty. And perhaps it is in the responses from people in Iran that, as a westerner, I felt my preconceptions dissolving, turning into something much more fluid.

Ultimately, it is the true measure of a person that Michel brings to light. By sharing this visionary project, he challenges the yardstick we use to measure a person’s worth, by which we judge ourselves and others.
The artist states that throughout the project the central theme of beauty informed and drove the process. Where previously he might have pushed to make something happen, in this case he allowed things to unfold naturally, making it possible for the beauty inherent in the process to shine through and drive it, even when things were looking bleak.

The beauty of the project shines so bright that the artist has decided that most copies of the book will be given away for free. A limited number of “luxury” editions are being produced for those who wish to support the project financially – the result being that the audience may directly participate in the project and, through a beautiful act, make it possible for someone to obtain the book who, under normal circumstances, might not have the resources necessary to.

And what about you? Are you the most beautiful person in the world? Tell us why.

Learn more about the project The Most Beautiful People in the World 
Order your very own copy of this extraordinary book.

The Art of Surfing

I did not post anything yesterday, as some of you may have noticed. Instead I went surfing. It was suggested by a friend, who noticed the omission, that surfing was a waste of my time. That I would be better off writing.

“But you run!” I countered. He replied “Yes, but that does not take much time.”

And so the question was posed by myself to myself:

Is surfing worthy of the large chunks of time spent in its pursuit? Would I be better off doing something else with my time? If the downside to surfing is the amount of time it takes to do it, what are the positive aspects of surfing that non-surfers might not appreciate? And in the pursuit of one passion (writing), must you give up others (surfing)?

My friend is right. Surfing is a very time-consuming activity. Particularly if you, like me, want to make the most of it every time you go out. Typically I surf for three hours straight. Then I might come in, go home to eat something and watch to see what happens over the course of the day. If conditions are good in the afternoon, there is a good chance a second session will be undertaken. The second session is often shorter, but can be as long as two or two and a half hours. On REALLY good days, I’ve been known to surf three times.

The end result is that entire days can be spent in the pursuit of waves. That is a lot of time to spend doing a sport. Some would go so far as to call it decadent. But is surfing just a sport? or is there more to it than meets the uninitated eye?

The label “surf bum” is often applied to surfers who spend a lot of time surfing and less time working or taking care of the things that other people feel they must do in the course of their daily lives. And certainly, the perception is that the surfers are “wasting” their time.

An older surfer I know has been quoted as saying:

In my life, I’ve had a wonderful time wasting my time surfing. And the most important word in that statement is “wonderful.”

Hedonistic? Maybe, but I submit that this notion of surfing as a waste of time is completely subjective. Who are we to say that anything one does is a waste of time?

You are right now exactly where you should be.

The spiritual nature of surfing must not be dismissed. Between sets, sitting atop his board, surfer becomes meditator. The only sounds he hears is the roar of the waves and sea birds’ calls. She bears witness as whales breach and cavort outside the break. Sunrise and sunset are greeted partially submerged in the pulsing, breathing, life-giving Ocean. Immersed in nature, surrounded by beauty, the surfer is transformed.

The metaphorical becomes reality when the surfer literally walks on water. Unlike a mountainside or other solid surface, the wave is ever changing and dynamic, requiring of the surfer so much focus and concentration that the mind is released from the craze-inducing endless stream of thoughts. The surfer realizes a Zen-like state. Surfing offers release and the surfer returns from the adventure calmer, more centered, content.

The end result is EXACTLY the same as meditation!

So you tell me, is meditation a waste of time?

Yesterday’s surf at Nine Palms, Baja, Mexico.