I found myself awake this morning while it was still dark, so rather than stay in bed and try to go back to sleep, I got up and went to watch the sunrise from the top of Highgate Hill, one of the highest points in Brisbane.

It’s been a while since I have got up to watch a sunrise, and I regret to say it’s not often enough that I am awestruck by natural beauty, but this morning that was the only possible reaction.

At first it was the different textures of the sky. Dark, dense clouds on the horizon contrasted with the lighter clouds above me, swirled across the skyline like broad brushstrokes. Trees stood silhouetted against the skyline.

Then the sun began to creep out, burning dark red around the edge of the lower clouds, stealthily emerging until the sky in front of me was lit up with swathes of pink against a golden sky. As the sun came out from behind the clouds, it illuminated everything around me, from the bright green of the grass to the surrounding trees; each one an artwork in itself, infinite shades of green moving softly and slowly in the breeze. There were birds swooping around effortlessly, calling out to each other; or were they calling out to the sunset? Like me, attempting to capture in words something so powerful the whole dictionary couldn’t do it justice.

I turned my head, and gasped out loud at what I saw to the south; an immense and luminous rainbow, imprinted against the sky. A rainbow at any time is an amazing thing; the colours so bold, and appearing seemingly out of nowhere; it seems impossible to believe that it could be just naturally occurring. This one was so bright, its stripes so defined, that I stood staring at it for minutes, trying to take it all in. It was raining softly now, so soft you could barely feel it, but you could see it, catching in the light for a split second as it floated down to the grass.

I was in awe of the majestic, effortless beauty of nature. Is it just because we are so alienated from nature that we see it as something so wondrous? Or is nature the definition of beauty, and everything else we consider beautiful is so because it reminds us of our natural surroundings?

One thing that is certain is that it’s a different kind of beauty to that which we are told is beautiful elsewhere. It bears little resemblance to the sterile landscapes of holiday resorts, even less to the sleek lines of modern architecture and design. The perversion of beauty is complete when it comes to ourselves; the inherent and unique beauty in every one of us has been contorted into bland, plastic ideals of impossibly perfect skin, impossibly perfect figures, and faces caked with makeup so as to make anything natural unrecognisable.

Is it a surprise that those who live for profit are unconcerned with the beauty of nature being destroyed by climate change, logging or any other form of environmental vandalism? In fact they are probably happy to see it conquered. You can’t make any money from what is naturally occurring everywhere. They hurry its demise, so when it’s gone there will be no obstacle to them selling us their distorted, manufactured substitute.

While thinking this I became more aware of the cars driving past me on their way to work; lycra clad early morning fitness classes; the city of Brisbane stretched out before me. I doubted many of them were getting the same enjoyment from the morning that I was.

It’s no wonder we live in a world where so many people are unhappy, where injustice is so rife, given how skewed our values are. Rather than what is good, value is placed on what is profitable, so things like the environment, our relationships with other people and our own fulfillment are trampled on in the pursuit of making more money and striving to be first in everything. If you are unhappy, it’s not because these things have been destroyed, it’s because you haven’t destroyed them enough for the sake of more wealth.

While unquestionably saddening, this fact I also think gives hope for those of us who desire social change. While some will accuse us of wanting to make everybody sacrifice what they have worked hard for, what we are really trying to do is to restore value to that which is truly beautiful, the things which truly make us happy. With that as our aim, the mission doesn’t appear so impossible. More people stopping to watch the sunrise certainly won’t hurt.

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