This island, Koh Phra Tong, is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. We are perched on the western side of the island, and each sunset is slightly more beautiful than the last. In the evening more stars than I thought possible dot the sky and the warm ocean water fills with bioluminescent plankton that light up their own constellations. Monkey families live in the jungle ecosystem, feasting on coconuts and occasionally causing a ruckus with their human neighbors.
The people here are conservationists. They live alongside the land and the wildlife; some take special care to conserve some of the islands most endangered species. One of the other guests on the island came back to her hut to find a family of flying snakes (yes that is a thing) making a home in her rafters. When she ran shouting to the property owner, he smiled and said:
“You should say “hello gorgeous!” Every time you enter your hut so you don’t scare them.”
After a moment, he picked up a slingshot
“Or you can try this.”
For all its beauty there’s an aspect that terrifies me about this island.
When the tsunami hit 10 years ago, everything changed.
“It was like the island flipped over,” explained one resident. Everything was destroyed. So many people lost their lives. The ecosystems fell out of balance. Even the trees had to start over.
Yet in all the harrowing stories I’ve heard about that day many are dotted with a surprising amount of light. One woman described the event as an important milestone in her life. It pushed her family to do a lot of work, to keep moving forward. She no longer fears anything, not even death.
That’s the wisdom of destruction: balancing memory with presence. There’s no way to forget, but life doesn’t stop. The only way out is through– keep moving, adapting, changing.
When I think about evidence of destruction– in my own life, in the lives of people I admire and in the world, this pattern emerges: all beautiful things have scars.
Beauty doesn’t come from perfection; it comes from evidence of both vulnerability and the ability to overcome.
A month or so ago, a friend took me to an AA meeting. There was so much beauty in that room and so many scars. I don’t remember too much of it, but I do remember something one person said that really stuck with me.
“Your recovery isn’t only about you. It’s about all the people you can help.”
Not too long before that meeting, one of my sangha members mentioned this perspective on difficult situations:
“Pain isn’t always a bad thing. It helps you empathize with the suffering of others.”
Using past destruction as a source of wisdom is the ultimate form of beauty.
The yogis talk a lot about this god named Lord Siva: The Destroyer. They aren’t taking about mindless destruction. They are looking at destruction as a necessary part of life; destruction so that new forms can be created. It’s destruction that makes it possible to evolve into something greater.
Buddhists have a similar notion: every moment we are dying so that every moment we can keep living. If we stopped being annihilated, we would stop existing. Destruction is necessary for life.
I’m pretty sure this holds true in the scientific sense as well.
So while I sit on this island on New Year’s Eve and think about all the things I’m grateful for, I can’t help but pay a little homage to the scars, messiness, and destruction in my life. It’s what’s brought me here. It’s what has made life as we know it.
Om Namah Sivaya and Happy New Year!