Journey of Beauty–Day 11

Welcome to round 2! How is your Journey (or journey) going? With a quick self-assessment, I am going to say mine is going pretty well. I had forgotten what it was like to do a Journey for the very first time. I feel a sense of newness, freshness, and a really wanting to understand and figure it out, which is different from recent Journeys. I’ve been covering a lot of ground, and finding beauty in many different places, both internally and externally. I feel my sense of beauty opening up! YAY!

For this round, we start again with the daily questions from the first round:

Questions

How does one act with Beauty? How does one bring Beauty to mundane tasks or actions? Is Beauty created, when one brings Beauty to a project? How does one embody Beauty?

Reflection

Milrepa had searched everywhere for enlightenment, but could find no answer–until one day, he saw and old man walking slowly down a mountain path, carrying a heavy sack. Immediately, Milrepa sensed that this old man knew the secret he had been desperately seeking for many years.

“Old man, please tell me what you know. What is enlightenment?”

The old man smiled at him for a moment, and swung the heavy burden off his shoulders and stood straight.

“Yes, I see!” cried Milrepa. “My everlasting gratitude. But tell me, what is after enlightenment?

Smiling again, the old man picked up the sack once again, slung it back over his shoulders, and continued on his way.

If I replace the concept of “enlightenment” in this story, with the concept of “beauty”, the story applies equally. The questions for the day are answered in this story. Beauty is a state of mind, a state of heart, which when applied to every task–even the most mundane–makes that task beautiful.

Those with eyes to see, will see the difference between a man carrying a sack, and a man carrying as sack with beauty (or with enlightenment). Not all have eyes to see. People who care more for pretense, the illusions of the world, or for (let’s just call it) ugliness, will only see a man carrying a sack, and (perhaps) look upon him with disdain. Milrepa had the eyes to see for “he sensed the old man knew the secret”.

This Journey is not only opening my eyes to finding beauty in myself, and in my life, it is also opening me to seeing other people who also see beauty, people who have had a lot more practice at it than I have. I am very excited about this.

As someone who loves to learn, I have found an area in which–at least for a time–I can make profound advances. There are so many aspects to beauty that I have never thought of. I am very happy that I have given myself this opportunity.

One mundane task that I do daily is feed the birds. I love taking care of nature, the earth, and the little fowl and critters (feeding squirrels is a natural by-product of feeding birds) in this way.  Each day when I perform this task, I really feel care and love, for all of earth and nature through this simple task. 

Do I feel care and love because I do the task? Or do I do the task because I feel care and love? I honestly do not know the answer to this question, but I think not having the answer is the answer: The two are inseparable. The task is the care and love is the task is the care and love. I am not trying to feel something special in feeding the birds, it just happens; the feelings correspond naturally and easily with the the task.

I would say that I perform this task beautifully. There is no thought, no expectation, just the joy of giving to the birds, and the joy of feeling the love and care–which is a reward all of itself.

Now that I have an association–in other words, I can cognize and recognize through the experience of feeding the birds what it means to do something in beauty–I can begin to work on the How does one bring Beauty to mundane tasks or actions? Exciting!

Journey of Beauty–Day 10

Peasant bread
Recipe here: https://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/11/07/my-mothers-peasant-bread-the-best-easiest-bread-you-will-ever-make/

I think one of the reasons I like food blogs is that many have a tone of wistful remembrances, smattered with family and friends, and often some life lesson, story, or insight that many people feel connected with. I think I like them because I don’t think I have quite the skill to write that way. My writing (in my mind) is direct, philosophical. I don’t tell stories, or try to reach across any aisles; I just say what I say.

In my mind, food bloggers do with writing what soft focus does to photos. The writing feels dreamy and inviting, like if you were there, you’d be sitting next to a fire with a cup of hot cocoa and whatever the recipe of the day is. There is comfort, nostalgia, warmth, and good feelings in so many food bloggers’ writing.

Soft focus
Photo credit: unknown

Some of the themes of these Journeys are discovery, and learning new things. Goodness knows I have a lot of discovery and learning to do in the area of Beauty. Today, I am working on taking a lesson from food bloggers. I baked bread today, while thinking about good friends, camaraderie, wonderful smells, and nurturing my friends and family with food.

You see, these things do not come naturally to me: my cooking and baking is often much like my writing–direct and with a purpose. I don’t bake thinking about what kind of life lessons there are or insights I can gain from the process. To approach Beauty from a food angle, taking a lesson from food bloggers is a stretch for me, but a good stretch, as I am learning and discovering!

I first made this bread about 6 months ago. It’s easy, does not take a lot of time, and there is no kneading. It fills the house with that amazing fresh baked smell. It is moist with a crunchy crust, and is perfect for toast or grilled cheese. The bread today is for the occasion of a dear friend who will be joining us for the evening, bringing several different whiskys. A whisky tasting evening! With homemade soup and fresh baked bread.

Peasant bread “buns”
Recipe here: https://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/11/07/my-mothers-peasant-bread-the-best-easiest-bread-you-will-ever-make/

Journey of Beauty–Day 09

Disillusion is the greatest gift I can give you. But, because of your fondness for illusion, you consider the term negative. You commiserate with a friend by saying, “Oh, what a disillusioning experience that must have been,” when you ought to be celebrating with him. The word dis-illusion is literally a “freeing from illusion.” But you cling to your illusions.

You are suffering; you do not fundamentally enjoy your life. Your entertainments, your playful affairs…are temporary ways to distract you from your underlying sense of fear. (Dan Millman’s character Socrates, from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior)

Original image designed by Akiyoshi Kitaoka
Source: Wikipedia

Questions

How do I distinguish fundamental beauty from fleeting, or superficial, beauty? What is the nature of illusion? What is the nature of dis-illusion? How does one get through illusion?

Reflection

I know the above quote does not reference beauty; however, when I read, “you do not fundamentally enjoy your life”, I thought, “What is fundamental beauty”? And, it occurred to me, that paragraph could apply just as easily to beauty, and to anyone chasing superficial beauty.

If that were the case, the paragraph would read something like this: You are suffering, you do not fundamentally enjoy your life. Your cars, your clothes, your lawns and houses distract you from acknowledging how little you enjoy life.

If this is the case, what do we do about it? How do we relieve the suffering of people who don’t know they are suffering, who are surrounded by “beautiful” things, and wonder why they are not happy?

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? – Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

This is a bunch of lines going in different directions, but the mind interprets it as squares.
Photo Credit: http://brainden.com

Same thing with people who love their beautiful things–people can learn a deeper beauty, if they really want to.

Let me be clear: things can be and are beautiful, but the beauty that I am getting at in this Journey is the one brought to the things, through our hearts, souls, feelings, and love. Of themselves, things do not contain this kind of beauty, and that is why, of themselves, they do not bring happiness, fulfillment, or a fundamental enjoyment of life.

“Seek ye first fundamental beauty and all beauty will be added unto you.”

The first paragraph of the Millman quote is instructive here: Superficial beauty is an illusion that would require dis-illusionment. Instead of those things of beauty as a way to fulfillment, they are really chains binding the person to unfulfillment.

In a way, it’s a simple question, “Does this thing make me happy?” For many people, the answer is “yes”. We live in a materialistic society, bombarded with marketing that tells us how to improve, be better, be happy–by simply buying products.

The outer message is constant, and if people are not inclined to try to think something else, something different, the “default” programming is what surrounds them in marketing and advertising.

Both chess sets are exactly the same color, the background just changed.
Photo Credit: brainden.com

This is why it’s so important to think for oneself. Are you happy? What makes you happy? When do you feel fulfilled? What fills your heart with beauty and joy?

These answers are something people must experience and recognize for themselves. People need the willingness to disregard the easy answer, the messages on the screen, with friends or family, or in music.

Finally, we get to Millman’s point about fear: Breaking down illusions can be scary. In a later scene in that book, Dan, the main character has a moment of really seeing himself through the Peaceful Warrior’s eyes–and it freaks him out. He feels berated, criticized, and ridiculed. When people’s illusions are exposed, there is a moment of panic that everything a person has ever lived or believed is false, or upside down. And it is, in a sense.

The horizontal lines are straight, but appear to be bent.
Source: http://brainden.com

Getting turned right-side-up, having those illusions dismantled, is emotionally similar to being in a nice, safe bed on a gravity-producing spaceship, then losing power, and therefore losing gravity, and drifting about directionless, then being slammed to floor, when the power turns back on (a scene from the movie Passengers).

When embraced, such transitions can be gentle and exciting. However they go, those transitions are the first step to seeing and experiencing Beauty as it is, as it is within you, as it is as you.

 

Journey of Beauty–Day 08

Odsherred, Denmark Photo: Wikipedia

Questions

What memories do you have of beauty? How are beauty and freedom related? What am I learning passively, simply by showing up to think about beauty every day?

Reflection

There are several themes rolling around in my head: Cycling, growing up, silence, immersion in a language or culture, passive learning, beauty. All of them come together for me in one word: Denmark.

I grew up bicycling all over Northwest Ohio. I loved the empty roads, the corn and wheat fields, the silence, the meditative feel of the rhythm of pedaling. I loved being alone; just me, the bike, and the breath.

Wheat Field
Photo credit: unknown

The sunlight on the wheat or the wind blowing across it are still among the most beautiful things I remember, or can imagine. If you didn’t grow up in Ohio (or the Midwest), this probably sounds crazy; but remember, beauty is both of the mind and of the heart, of physical perception and interpretation. The beauty that I saw was part of a whole experience–breathing the fresh air, feeling the sun and wind, looking at wheat fields for as far as I could see, and being a part of it all.

It was at these times, cycling around Ohio, that I felt surrounded by the beauty of nature, of life itself. I felt it enliven me.

I left Ohio to spend a year in Denmark, where I was immersed in the language and the culture.

Odsherred, Denmark
Photo credit: WelcomeToMyCopenhagen.com

I was fortunate enough to have a bicycle, and spent the year cycling all over Odsherred–going to friends’ houses, cycling to school, to soccer or handball practice and games, or just cycling out to the beach for a day. The scenery was different than that in Ohio and it overwhelmed me with its beauty. I do think, I was predisposed to feel the beauty of Denmark in this way, as I had the foundational experience of cycling around Ohio.

Cycling in Denmark
Photo credit: ecoiselin.blogspot.com

My experience of beauty in Denmark was also more than my experience in Ohio: there was a greater sense of freedom.

Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely freedom associated with cycling in Ohio, but it was more the freedom of escape from the angst of being a teenager.

Cycling in Denmark
Photo credit: visitodsherred.dk

In Denmark the freedom was, “I AM HERE!” The first is the freedom of getting through and overcoming daily struggles; the second is the freedom of coming into my own, of being alive and out in the world, discovering myself without preconceptions or expectations.

As with the beauty of the wheat fields being part of a total experience, so too, the feeling of freedom and beauty in Denmark was part of being immersed in that culture and language. Everything and everyone was beautiful in Denmark. Det er et dejligt land, og det er mit hjerteland.

I am feeling very grateful for this reminiscing. I feel that I am re-living some of the experiences in my life that brought me feelings of beauty, freedom, belonging, connectedness. I have lived and loved beautifully!

In addition, I am excited for this idea of immersion and being surrounded by something…like beauty. I am intentionally surrounding myself with awareness of beauty, here and now. I was not even aware of actively wanting to surround myself with beauty when I was growing up, or when I was in Denmark; how much more is accessible now that I am aware?

 

I haven’t noted my reminders lately, but I will point this out today: Normally I don’t do a lot with photos or layout (have you noticed?). But today, I thought I would play with making the post more beautiful by doing different things with the photos. This was my intentional attempt to create something beautiful today!

 

 

 

Journey of Beauty–Day 07

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Reflection

I dedicate today to our beautiful earth. I know, I’m a bit behind, as earth day was four days ago. For today’s meditation/contemplation I am simply gazing upon pictures of earth, and I offer this poem by Khalil Gibran:

~ Earth ~

How beautiful you are, Earth, and how sublime!

What wisdom in your obedience to the light, and what nobility in your submission to the sun!

How seductive you are when veiled in shadow and how radiant is your face beneath the mask of darkness!

How crystalline are your songs at dawn and how marvelous are the praises sung at the hour of your twilight!

How perfect you are, Earth, and how majestic!

I have crossed your plains and climbed your mountains; I have gone down into your valleys and entered your caves.

On the plains I have discovered your dreams, on the mountains I have admired your splendid presence.

And in the valleys I have observed your tranquility; among the rocks I have felt your firmness; in the caves I have touched your mysteries.

You who are relaxed in your strength, haughty in your modesty, humble in your arrogance, gentle in your resistance, limpid in your secrets.

I have crossed your seas, explored your rivers, and walked the banks of your streams.

I have heard Eternity speak through your ebb and flow and the ages return the echoes of your melodies over your hillsides.

And I have heard Life calling to itself in your mountain passes and along your valley slopes.

You are the tongue and lips of Eternity, the cords and fingers of Eternity, the thoughts and words of Life.

Your Spring awoke me and led me towards your forests, where your breathing exhales in the distance its sweet perfume in spirals of incense.

Your Summer invited me into your fields to be present at your labor, at the birth of your jewel-like fruits.

Your Autumn showed me, in your vineyards, your blood running like wine.

Your winter took me into its bed where your purity broadcasts its flakes of snow.

You are fragrance when young, force when growing, magnificence in middle life, and with the ice of old age, you are crystal.

On a starry night I opened the lock-gates of my soul and went out to be at your side, with a curious and hungry heart. And I saw you looking at the stars which were smiling at you.

Then I cast off my chains and shackles, for I discovered that the lodging of the soul is your universe, that its desires grow within yours, that its peace dwells within your peace, and that its joy lies in that long hair of stars that the night spreads over your body.

One misty night, weary of idle dreaming, I went to meet you. And you appeared to me like a giant armed with furious tempests, fighting the past by means of the present, overturning the old to the advantage of the new, and letting the strong scatter the weak.

In this way, I learned that the law of Man is your law. I learned that he who does not break up his branches dried out by his own tempest will die of indifference. And he who does not rebel to make his own dead leaves fall will perish from indolence.

Immense are your gifts, Earth, and deep are your groans; long too are the languishing of your heart for your children who have been led astray by their greed on the path of their truth.

We cry out to each other, and you smile.

We go astray, and you pay the penalty for us.

We soil things, and you sanctify.

And we blaspheme, and you bless.

We sleep without ever dreaming, and you dream in your eternal wakefulness. We speak to you while piercing your breast with swords and lances, and you heal our wound-like words with the scented oil of your waters.

We sow our bones and skulls in the palm of your hand, and you make willows and cypresses grow. We store our refuse and excrement within your caves and you fill our attics and taverns. We disfigure you with our blood and you wash our hands in the Eden river. We dissect your entrails in order to extract cannon and rockets from them, and from our bones you create the lily and dew.

Earth, you are long-suffering and magnanimous.

And the Earth cries out to the soil:

“I am the womb and sepulcher and I shall remain thus until the stars fade away and the sun turns into ashes.”

 

Journey of Beauty–Day 06

“God don’t like ugly.” –common American phrase, particularly in the Southern United States

“He made everything that He created beautiful.” –The Quran (32:7)

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I took a nature walk today. It was cold and rainy, which meant no one was out (except me). Beauty, beauty everywhere!

Questions

What is beauty of mind? What is beauty of heart? What is beauty of soul? What is beauty of emotion? How are these the same? How are they different? Are they enacted, or expressed similarly, or differently? How does one discern the nuances of difference between beauty of mind-heart-soul-emotion? Is there a difference, or does all unite in Beauty, as it does in Love or Oneness?

Reflection

Today I am thinking again about how beauty is reflected in actions. The two quotes at the top come to mind.

To get a feel for the quote, “God don’t like ugly”, I recommend watching the movie 10 Days in a Madhouse, for a character study. The nurses and doctors were the epitome of “ugly”. They used power as a justification for cruelty, goading patients into confrontation, then beating them (for example), and telling the patients, “you brought this on yourself”. They took advantage, and were just plain mean. U-G-L-Y. I’ve known a few people like that.

Contrast this, with the Islamic concept of abad, which means

courtesy, manners, correct comportment and upbringing, culture and literature. To possess adab is to be truly cultured in a manner that embraces not only the mind but also the body and soul. Adab means being polite before elders; recognizing the innate hierarchy in human values; knowing when to speak and when to remain silent, how to sit or stand politely, how to eat properly, and how to act correctly in all situations. (Islamic Spirituality. Edited by Sayyed Hossein Nasr. p. 218). 

From my limited understanding, in Islamic spirituality, abad is the respect given to every action, in recognition of God creating everything beautiful. It is the physical acknowledgement of the beauty of God in everything; if any action is not beautiful, it dishonors the beauty that God created.

To me, it feels complex and full of rules, and often is so: “usually each Sufi center possesses elaborate rules for the adepts in their dealing with the master, other disciples, and the world outside. The aim of these rules is to train the soul and bestow upon it the habits necessary for progress upon the spiritual path.” (ibid).

But at the same time, the rules are designed for fallible humans, as a guide for right behavior. Beyond the rules, there is a feeling of how to be and act beautifully in the world. It would seem to me that as with any learning curve, some people need the structure, the rules, the framework, because they have not yet developed enough of an independent understanding, enough of a feeling of being able to apply the concept in a variety of situations. Then there are people who seem to understand innately, almost naturally how to apply the rules, and thus do not need the rules.

As for me, I was not raised with a concept of abad, but I was raised with the notion of common courtesy and respect. Add to that the Kantian ideal of inherent human dignity and value, and I have a pretty good framework for treating others as I would want to be treated (polite, respectful, honor the dignity of every person).

It is the “beyond the rules” aspect of abad that I am curious about. On the one hand, abad completely embodies the idea that I am seeking: how to bring beauty into every action, how to live a beautiful life. Yet there is more than thismore than the form of beauty.

I want to master the action of beauty in form and content, in mind, action,  heart and soul.

Journey of Beauty–Day 05

“The perception of beauty is a moral test.” -Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1850.

Rorschach inkblot

 

Today’s Questions

What do I perceive? What do I perceive as beautiful? What is beauty to you? How do you perceive beauty? How do our perceptions differ? How are they similar? What do our perceptions say about us as individuals, as human beings, or as spiritual beings? Can someone change how they perceive beauty?

Reflection

As I started today, I wondered what other people have said regarding the Thoreau quote, so I Googled it. First, let me say there is nothing very intelligent that I found written about it.

However, I did find thiswhich I find to be a very poignant and accurate visual accompaniment to the quote. Brava to this artist.

It seems to me this artwork silently poses the questions: What do you see? How do you interpret these squiggly lines? Do you see relative chaos with no meaning? Do you see elegance and beauty? Do you see figures? Where does your imagination take you? 

Similar to a Rorschach test, what a person sees in the squiggly lines is a test, but instead of a psychological test (as with Rorschach), it’s a test of beauty (how that person answers the questions in the preceding paragraph), and therefore of that person’s moral outlook (according to the Thoreau quote).

Now, I encourage you to take a look at the rest of the site, here. Note: I have never visited this site before today, and it was H.D. Thoreau, who brought me to it. I see a lot of artwork. But I do not find all of it beautiful. Similarly, earlier today, I was looking through a home-design magazine, and although I could see style, or fashion, there were many pages where I did not find the style or fashion beautiful.

Which brings me to the question: Is Thoreau right? Does perception of beauty indicate some sort of moral compass? I mean…didn’t I start out this Journey saying (basically), “I have no idea what beauty is, that’s why I need to do this Journey”? Even though I was mainly talking about how I express or create beauty, there was a bit of doubt about my aesthetic sense to be able to recognize beauty. According to Thoreau, if I cannot recognize beauty, I’ve failed a moral test, and I really don’t buy that about myself.

Furthermore, I’ve held off from saying this cliche, but I think now is the appropriate time: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If I think something is beautiful, and you think it’s horrendously ugly, does that mean your moral compass is in question? How can I judge anyone’s morality based on what they find beautiful?

Thus, as it stands, I can’t agree with Thoreau.

However, I also don’t think the quote is exactly wrong. Here’s how I see it:

The quote is more about perception than it is about beauty. Perception, in a Course in Miracles, is explained sort of like this: Everyone has perceptions, which we get through our physical senses. But what most people don’t understand is that how we filter all of the information coming through our senses happens first in the brain. The brain chooses which perceptions to focus on before the opportunity for perception even happens. It’s like the experiment done with kittens: kittens who were raised in a room with horizontal stripes painted on the wall had no vertical perceptions as adult cats; their perception was conditioned to the horizontal, and therefore they could not even see the vertical. For a Course in Miracles, this is important because it implies that when you change what you think about, or how you think, you then change what you perceive, and therefore how you interact with the world.

Back to the Thoreau quote: the question is more what are you thinking? than what do you see? And the implication is that what you see points to what you are thinking, or how you are thinking about what it is you see. I do not (and this is my opinion) think there is any necessary or causal relationship between beauty and morality; but I do think that there is a correlation between what people perceive and how they interact with the world.

This discussion could go on and on, couldn’t it? For example, what if I were someone who saw fashion and style as beautiful, and wanted to be surrounded by that beauty, and so had to do some unethical things to get the money or relationships to have a house full of those beautiful things?

Or, what if I found the forest beautiful, and living simply off the land the most beautiful expression of my life, but then someone else had an idea that beauty was making my small piece of heaven into a shopping mall?

Who is right? What is beauty? Who decides?

Finis

I had two intentional expressions of beauty today. The first was that I hung some of Tam’s artwork on the wall, thus beautifying the space. Second, I wrote this, which feels a bit like word-play, but there is something to it! I know nothing that I know and know that I know nothing that I know. For I is the first nothing that I cannot know beyond the being of itself, which is nothing.