▼On Beauty Within & Without▼
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Delineating True Beauty
When it comes to the very tricky issue of what, or who is beautiful, one option is Eloquent Silence. Or put crudely, “STFU and enjoy the view” and/or experience. In appreciating another's view of beauty, we can also do what happened to Blueshinestars Top 20: ridicule the list. Consistently though, I find — and TC Candler's annual 100 List is no exception — that every time well-resourced entities claim or compile a “Most Beautiful” list, without fail, those turn out to be celebrities. Which makes you wonder, why don't they just name it “100 Most Beautiful Famous Women & Models?” Or to be controversial, “100 Most Beautiful Non-Plus-Size Women”? Speaking strictly for myself, I see beauty in ALL of these women. Airbrush or no airbrush. Rank or no rank. That's just how I'm wired. But whoever coined the term “Plus-Size” — and I join Tyra Banks in her distaste — the standard of “beauty” we have here clearly is flawed as it is unrepresentative of reality. The word “imperfection” is thrown in the mix, and yet there's nothing close to a “Plus-Size” to add credence to the “artform” TC Candler and his “independent critics” claim. Hence, a standard of beauty enamored by biased Hollywood, Western pop culture and Social Media worldview, —a point I addressed last year. As always, feel free to chime in.
Well, by the time you soulfully devour what follows, preferably hearing what my mentor said about it, you'll understand better.
For now, though, let me answer that question this way: The story is told of a very old traditional couple who married very young through arranged marriage. And one day, when one of their great grandchildren asked the woman how she met and managed to learn to love a man she never knew, her answer was poignant: I was told he was a good man, and that was good enough for me.
Speaking from the heart and not the dictionary, that is one of many raw and simple ways I approach true beauty. Because I'm not about to tell you beauty has to do with glamor, bling, or the Academy Awards. Sorry, but the reality I live dictates and demands something all-encompassing, bleakier; and yet powerfully enchanting and truer. And so delineating the definition of beauty growing up (by the ocean once upon a time), was a natural rather than glamorous experience. And "like a huge wild invitation to extend your imagination", Act 2 is another Safari I'm inviting the genuine seeker to embark upon.
Understanding true beauty came to me through the actions of good, positive people and inspiring natural landscapes that instilled curiosity, respect and awe despite the bleak state of affairs my own dire circumstances and human condition constantly reminded, and still remind me of.
That's why in Act 1, I said: Beauty has no reason to call attention to itself; nothing to prove, nothing to compare. Neither does perfection in its relentless or subtle pursuit of beauty. It just simply is: in a constant, quiet, natural, positive, spiritual state of being, becoming, developing; drifting farther and farther away from all manifestations of cynicism, envy, jealousy and negativity.
Or you may simply be concerned; maybe overbearing and overprotective of a friend, sister or loved one who is deemed precious, or beautiful. But one question you might consider: Are you robbing them of their right to live happily, build and nurture new relationships without feeling suffocated? I know, and have known in America, Asia and Europe, Mainland Chinese and (South) Koreans imprisoned — from the familial to the college dorm context — by roommates, close friends, and younger or older sisters or brothers alike. Beautiful adult human beings who can't go out although the same people imprisoning them venture out at will to grow their human relations or relationships. And yet, as if by levitation, to carry enough positive thought within so as to rise boundlessly and soar above all that is unlike the enduring, the positive, the authentic, the meek, the equitable, is to me, a beautiful thing. And that, I would say, is the beginning of COOL, of inner beauty and importantly: getting out of the way of others' beauty glow. Because ultimately, transcendent true beauty, I believe, is made complete in giving back, sharing and encouraging individual growth, happiness and progress. Not imprisoning. Not merely in narcissistic radiance, outward gloss or expectation of favors just because "I'm hot" and "pretty".
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Thankfully, both Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as intruigingly, a certain — some would say beautiful — fairy, appreciated that "though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not".
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Double Standards & The All-Encompassing Nature Of Beauty
Discovering the natural beauty of Damaris Lewis (above) through both her penchant for the lighthearted and apparent confidence in herself for example, was refreshing. For one reason, we live in a world of endless layers of double standards regarding which appropriately, Sam veda said: "People of double standards never experience happiness" and Sri Sathya Sai Baba added: "Treat all as your own self. Do not have a double standard".
So that the same ones for example, who rant, rail and throw hissy fits because lacking self-insight, their mindset tells them it's OK to either trivialize discrimination, injustice and/or racism. Or simply, to wish others 'shut up' about the misfortunes of others because they find the subject inconvenient to the self-indulgence at hand; ridicule reality as a "whine" while shamelessly presuming simultaneously that they're the only one who oppose rape, or see it fit to silence powerful, morally arresting observations and critique, for instance. Noam Chomsky's answer: "For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit." After all, once you otherize people, you can't understand them or get close to their core because you've dehumanized them, essentially robbing them of their true beauty and dignity, as well as *your* capacity for appreciating *your* own inner beauty. And that's how the cycle of mistrust perpetuates, until corrected. Bill Maher though incisively cuts through the post-racial fantasy (and nonsense) and nails it: “The new racism is the denial of racism”.
So with the aggregate cost of inequality and pathology of joblessness and of privilege; and the kind of stress that the absence of a level playing field that leaves many trying but doomed to fail — stress bags under eyes and constantly sleep-deprived or not — on the backburner of your mind, stop and attempt to empathize, if you will, with the plight of "others" trying to make headway in an industry whose reality of beauty is stuck in the 1950s or 20s. And the opportunity to "re-learn" (if your attitude and mindset is right) will enrich the humility within. That's why I said in the beginning of this blog: I believe human beings possess a capacity for appreciating and perpetuating true beauty. But it takes practice (a point later reinforced by John O'Donohue, below). Not an insensitive, 'know-it-all'/gotcha!/lets-read-and-then-ridicule attitude or populism agenda.
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The true seeker of beauty within and without weighs, introspects, retrospects, and accordingly: corrects erroneous, hypocritical postulates in furtherance of a better human experience for so-called "others" in this selfame World. Anything less, in my view, is a misunderstanding of what beauty entails which is why Saint Augustine was right in reminding us: "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page". Travel defined broadly, socially and encompassing all that wandering minds, hearts, eyes, ears, and souls learn and unlearn in opening themselves to a higher concept of beauty.
That precisely, is the reason I highlighted the equitable in a previous paragraph for beauty is not, or needn't be a local or ethnic construct. And I'm not even sure it is 'in the eye of the beholder' either, a point Steve Jobs alone offers ample proof of.
Embracing Beauty in it's Completeness
As Beyoncé said, "It’s important to concentrate on other qualities besides outer beauty". So let's conclude this Safari with personal (excerpted) favorite insights by my great mentor John O'Donohue, who wonderfully and beautifully (I'm sure he'd agree), was blessed with the honor of dying peacefully in his sleep two days after his 52nd birthday.
I feel like...one of the huge confusions in our times is to mistake glamour for beauty.
And we do live in a culture which is very addicted to the image, and I think that there is always an uncanny symmetry between the way you are inward with yourself and the way you are outward. And I feel that there is an evacuation of interiority going on in our times. And that we need to draw back inside ourselves and that we'll find immense resources there.
I suppose I was blessed by being born into an amazing landscape in the west of Ireland...So soon — being a child and coming out into that it, was waiting like a huge wild invitation to extend your imagination. And then it's right on the edge of the ocean as well, and so...an ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone going on.
I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. And I think that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination: that landscape wasn't just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.
I think that as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they are able to sustain it, because there is in them some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way. I love Pascal's phrase, you know, that you should always "keep something beautiful in your mind." And I have often — like in times when it's been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness. I think that beauty is not a luxury, but I think that it ennobles the heart and reminds us of the infinity that is within us. I always loved what Mandela said when he came out, and I was actually in his cell in Robben Island, one time I was in South Africa. Even after 27 years in confinement for something he never — for wrong you never committed, he turned himself into a huge priest and come out with this sentence where he said, "You know that what we are afraid of is not so much our limitations but the infinite within us." And I think that is in everybody. And I suppose the question that's at the heart of all we've been discussing really, which is a beautiful question, is the question of God, you know?
...here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you're looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that's the mystery of poetry, you know...And what I love in this regard is my old friend Meister Eckhart, 14th-century mystic...
And one day I read in him and he said, "There is a place in the soul — there is a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch." And I really thought that was amazing, and if you cash it out what it means is, that in — that your identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there's still a sureness in you, where there's a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.
[From his book that I quoted in a blog last year]: In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging…In everyone's life there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend, in this love you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. Where you are understood, you are at home.
I don't think we're less capable at all. I think we're more unpracticed at it and therefore more desperate for it. And I think it's a matter of attention really, just attention. That if you realize how vital to your whole spirit — and being and character and mind and health — friendship actually is, you will take time for it, you know? And the trouble is though for so many of us is that we have to be in trouble before we remember what's essential. And sometimes it's one of the lonelinesses of humans is that you hold on desperately to things that make you miserable and that sometimes you only realize what you have when you're almost about to loose it.
So, I think that it would be great to step back a little from one's life, and see around one who are those that hold me dear, that truly see me, and those that I need, and to be able to go to them in a different way. Because the amazing thing about humans is we have immense capacity to reawaken in each other the profound ability to be with each other and to be intimate. That's one of the things I've always thought here is that, you know, there is loneliness here that is covered over by this fake language of intimacy that you meet everywhere.
And...everybody will say, 'Have a nice day' to you and, you know, you can imagine if you went — turned back to them and say, 'God, I really wonder if I'll have a nice day or what the day will be like,' things could get complicated very suddenly, you know? And I think this is one of the key things in parenting and the difficulty of raising children in a very, very fast-moving culture that again it's the difficulty of creating a space where children can actually unfold and where they can be truly accompanied in their journey...And sometimes it's very lonesome to watch how distant parents feel from them, because of their incapacity to some how hold conversations with them that really need to happen.
Where beauty is — I think...isn't all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. And I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal that patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don't repeat what we've been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.
When I think of the word "beauty," some of the faces of those that I love come into my mind..I also think of beautiful landscapes that I know. Then I think of acts of such lovely kindness that have been done to me, by people that cared for me, in bleak unsheltered times or when I needed to be loved and minded. I also think of those unknown people who are the real heroes for me, who you never hear about, who hold out on lines — on frontiers of awful want and awful situations and manage somehow to go beyond the given impoverishments and offer gifts of possibility and imagination and seeing. I also think — always when I think of beauty — 'cause it's so beautiful for me — is I think of music. I love music. I think music is just it, I mean, I think that's — I love poetry as well, of course, and I think of beauty in poetry. But I always think that music is what language would love to be if it could, you know?
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You can read more of the latter here. And as recommended before, take time and
listen to the entire interview. But wherever you are, I hope and pray true
beauty engulfs and radiates all around and above both your being
as well as your actions, positively touching others. Flawed
though I am, my life journey comprises precisely
the same hope and prayer. And in that
sense, the video below is
a gentle reminder.
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