Standing on the peak of Machu Picchu, watching the sun slowly turn the hills from black to green, I felt alive. Not the heart-racing, head-spinning kind of alive I feel in the heat of a new adventure, but rather, a peaceful, calm sort of alive. The kind of alive I find when I am surrounded by beauty.
It was the same kind of alive I felt when I walked along the beach in Costa Rica, matching my steps to the rhythm of the waves, and gazing at the reflection of the stars in the midnight ocean. Or the kind of alive I felt sitting on my paddleboard in the middle of Lake Tahoe, watching the sun slowly creep over the mountains. I floated silently, brought to life by the crisp morning air and the still, crystalline water.
I first discovered this feeling as a teenager. When the full moon came out, I would crawl out of my window and nestle myself in the small V-shaped nook of our roof. I would wrap myself in a blanket and lay there for hours. I would lose myself in the moon and the stars and the silence of my hometown. In those peaceful, midnight moments, I glimpsed a bit of that beauty that I would later seek around the world. The beauty of being alive.
The older I got, the farther I wandered. Everywhere I went brought bigger, more beautiful moments. I yearned to feel the peaceful sense of life I had felt in my teens, but as I traveled the world I found a much deeper, more profound expression of what I had touched on in my youth. I found it in the sunsets in South Africa, the morning call to prayer in Ethiopia, and the wild howl of monkeys in Thailand. The longer I traveled the more moments I found. From the Northern Lights dancing across the Icelandic skies to the towering Redwoods as far as the eye could see, slowly, country by country, I started to see the world. And what I saw was a world full of beauty—beauty that made me feel alive.
Last night jet lag got the best of me. At 2am I gave up on sleep and crawled out of bed. I wrapped a blanket around myself and curled up next to the window. First, all I saw was city. The streetlights blocked the stars from view. The occasional taxi or drunken wanderer disturbed the silence. Concrete stretched in every direction.
But then I noticed the darkened trees just beyond the concrete. And I saw the way the streetlight turned those trees into intricate shadows on my window and walls. When the cars left the road, I could hear a single bird singing through the night.
It was beautiful.
Even here, in the middle of the night, in my little slice of the city, there was beauty. Sitting alone in my flat in Edinburgh, with nothing but a half-empty city street to keep me company, I felt alive. Because beauty is not only to be found in the highest mountains or the deepest oceans. No. Beauty is everywhere. You just need to open your eyes.