Awakening to Beauty

WE LIVE BETWEEN the act of awakening and the act of surrender.
Each morning we awaken to the light and the invitation to a new day
in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be
taken to play in the world of dreams where time is no more. At
birth we were awakened and emerged to become visible in the world.
At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible.
Awakening and surrender: They frame each day and each life; between
them is the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the
frailty.

The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere — in
landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening,
companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves. No one would
desire not to be beautiful. When we experience the Beautiful, there
is a sense of homecoming. We feel most alive in the presence of the
Beautiful, for it meets the needs of our soul. For a while the
strain of struggle and endurance are relieved and our frailty
becomes illuminated by a different light in which we come to
glimpse behind the shutter of appearances the sure form of things.
In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same
act. We find that we slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as
we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient
within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.

THESE TIMES ARE riven with anxiety and uncertainty given the
current global crisis. In the hearts of people some natural ease
has been broken. Our trust in the future has lost its innocence. We
know now that anything can happen, from one minute to the next.
Politics, religion, economics, and the institutions of family and
community, all have become abruptly unsure. At first, it sounds
completely naive to suggest that now might be the time to invoke
and awaken beauty. Why? Because there is nowhere else to turn and
we are desperate; furthermore, it is because we have so
disastrously neglected the Beautiful that we now find ourselves in
such terrible crisis.

In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a
crisis about the nature of beauty. When we address difficulty in
terms of the call to beauty, new invitations come alive. Perhaps,
for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we
endure and allow. The media generate relentless images of
mediocrity and ugliness in their talk shows, tapestries of
smothered language and frenetic gratification. Beauty is mostly
forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic. The blindness of
development creates rooms, buildings, and suburbs that lack grace
and mystery. Socially, this influences the atmosphere in the
workplace, the schoolroom, the boardroom, and the community. We are
turning more and more of our beautiful earth into a wasteland. Much
of the stress and emptiness that haunt us can be traced back to our
lack of attention to beauty. Internally the mind becomes coarse and
dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts that hold the
radiance of beauty.

Sadly, whether from resentment, fear, or blindness, beauty is
often refused, repudiated, or cut down to the size of our timid
perceptions. The tragedy is that what we refuse to attend to cannot
reach us. In turning away from beauty, we turn away from all that
is wholesome and true, and deliver ourselves into an exile where
the vulgar and artificial dull and deaden the human spirit. In
their vicinity we are unable to feel or think with any refinement.
They cannot truly engage us because of their emptiness; they pound
our minds and feelings because they lack the coherence to embrace
the inner form of the soul. They are not a presence but rather an
absence that evicts and vacates.

A CULTURE IS a complex network of tradition, convention,
radiance, memory, dream, and darkness. In our times, travel and
especially technology have transformed the boundaries of culture to
bring us closer together. Yet the world was never more threatened
by raging conflicts of inequality, hatred, and terrorism. It is the
ultimate paradox of our times. Why does emerging global unification
have such a sinister underside? Perhaps because the engine of
unification has been economics and it has no destination other than
acquisition; consequently, it has squandered the privileges and
duties of encounter for the sake of economic and industrial
connection.

But connection is not encounter. This is precisely where the
neglect and repression of beauty lead to disaster. The heart of
beauty is loyalty to wholeness and symmetry, and the effect is
illumination and radiance. This is always evident in the simplicity
and complexity of human encounter. Two humans can meet at an
obvious conscious level, but the subconscious of each is always in
play and sublimely alert. If this powerful unknown domain between
two individuals is not attended to but pushed aside, their
encounter will lack depth and often unwittingly activate unexpected
negativity and destructiveness between them. Our global unification
has been raging on but merely at a superficial, conscious level. As
with an individual, a culture has a subconscious too. We need to
acknowledge the subtle yet powerful subconscious of different
cultures. A culture’s subconscious must be given space and patience
in order that it can show itself and guide us in our duties of
care, attention, and encounter.

The origin, evolution, and definition of a culture is always an
incredible narrative. As well as being a social creation, at its
heart a culture is primarily a creation of imagination and spirit.
We cannot encounter the heart of a culture unless we attend to its
inner creative impulse whose vision and intention is ultimately the
Beautiful. A culture that denies beauty sows the seeds of its own
destruction. Within every culture there are huge archives and
fountains of beauty. The ‘royal road’ to true cultural encounter
brings us to its fountain of beauty. When we are admitted there, we
stand on universal ground, on a level where conscious and
subconscious are in harmonious tension; this is the depth below
fear, threat, and otherness.

This is the fecund Field of Springtime within a culture, the one
field where the seeds of true beginning can germinate. We need to
refine our attention and purify our urgency to make ourselves
worthy to enter there. When we do, caricature and hatred of the
Other begin to melt away and we are able to meet in our difference,
without fear and threat. Otherwise, the lethal pendulum of attack
and counterattack will prevail and destroy us all. Imagine the
harvest of possibility that would open if the West could attend to
the neglected and forgotten creative subconscious of Islam and
China — that Field of Springtime where the beauty of Islam and
China await to enrich us all. Beauty is another order, a deeper
level. When we allow ourselves under the persuasion of beauty, our
encounter gains integrity, and integrity is the heart of
integration, which is the gift we most desperately need now.

Excerpted from Kosmos (Fall/Winter 2004), a
magazine that explores ‘global awakening.’ Subscriptions: $16/yr.
(2 issues) from Box 2102, Lenox, MA 01240;
www.kosmosjournal.org.

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