The middle ground

In July of this year we took a trip to the west coast of the USA.  One morning, after waking up to a particularly mild and overcast morning in Santa Cruz, we decided to risk being caught in a downpour and soak up some fresh air and exercise by the shore.  Mid-run, I pulled up abruptly to capture this photo.  A triangular rock, inverted and balanced precariously atop a jagged counterpart, while the slightly angered waves, whipped up by the impending rain, crashed precariously close to its base.

It was evident that this rock had been balanced there by a pair of steady hands days, perhaps weeks beforehand. This is the kind of art that is practiced on many seashores around the world, but it never ceases to amaze me.  I think that, on this particular day, when the wind seemed a little too strong, and the sea just a little too frenzied, I felt particularly moved by this image.  I admired the rock for its balance, for its steely determination in the face of unusual adversity.

This, I believe is no mean feat.  It brings to mind Aristotle’s “golden mean,” or the practice of finding the acceptable middle ground, the balance, between opposing concepts. Though traditionally considered in relation to excess of particular virtues we can broaden its definition to think about what achieving real balance means in our modern world.  In today’s ridiculous, fast moving world we are forced, on a daily basis, to prioritise one demand over another, one crisis over the next, one person’s needs before another’s, even one ideology over another. When do we have time to reclaim our balance in the face of such pressure?  Is it something that we strive to do, or do many of us tip instead either into the sea or onto the jagged rocks beneath in an attempt to excel at one part of our lives to the detriment of another?  It’s very easy to lose this balance in life; I have spent the better part of the last year attempting to rediscover my own personal golden mean after years of tipping myself too far to one side and neglecting the other.  It is not a journey that ever comes to a natural end; it is an ongoing discovery of what balance means to you.

 

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In the eye of the beholder

In April 2014, my husband and I had just moved to the beautiful (but busy) city of Melbourne, Australia.  We took advantage of a rare four day break in our working schedules to travel along the Great Ocean Road, a stunning stretch of highway that extends from Geelong (to the south west of Melbourne) all the way into South Australia.  The main attraction on the Victorian side of the highway is the series of large rock formations affectionately known as the Twelve Apostles (although I believe there are but eight formations still standing today). These large, triangular shaped masses of sandstone reach out of the shallow water close to the shore and appear magnificent bathed in the late afternoon light.

As wondrous as this sight is, I found myself drawn to the beach, the golden sand and the constancy of the waves lapping at the shore.  We drove on from the tourist-strewn site of the Apostles and stopped at this small enclave, I cannot recall its exact location.  There, as the sun descended I was able to capture this image : the majesty of the sunbathed, unmoving cliffs in the face of the receding sea.

It seemed to me that there could be little to compete with this vision, but on reflecting on it some time later with friends and colleagues, few could understand why I preferred this simple view of sand and see to the widely accepted beauty of the Twelve Apostles. And so the age-old argument begins – what constitutes beauty? Is it really ‘in the eye of the beholder’ or is there some objective means by which to measure it?  There was some consensus in the old philosophical world that beauty must have an objective or universal component, that if we find something beautiful we likely want others to agree that it is so, and therefore the must be some generalisable qualities of what is beautiful. But, is it more than aesthetics, but a particular experience related to an image or object that is beautiful? My memory of this photo is of standing with my then fiancé on an isolated beach, at the base of a tall cliff, sheltered from the wind as we watched the sun go down. Is it this memory that is the essence of the beauty I see in this photo?