How Do We See Beauty?

The following is a story about Narcissus taken from the book The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coehlo.


The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus. The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.

But this was not how the author of the book ended the story. He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.

“I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.

“Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.”

“But…was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.

“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”

The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:

“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”


I believe that it is human nature to desire attention, appreciation, and approbation. I also believe that this goes one step further. In a way, it is human nature to be narcissistic, or absolutely consumed with one’s self-image and ego. But by letting ourselves become consumed with our egos, what are we missing? What beauty in the world are we overlooking? When we look back on our lives, will we be like Narcissus and the lake, too consumed with ourselves to enjoy the beauty surrounding us? Or will we appreciate the beauty of the world and people around us, using the opportunities we are presented with to establish lasting and meaningful relationships, and with those new relationships change the world?

Stop and meditate for a moment. Which life are you living?

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