Look for beauty with an open heart and you will find it; the mocking of beauty comes from the hardened heart.
Have you a favourite movie? A favourite scene from a movie? Many years ago one of my favourite movies was Elephant Man. On April 11th 1890 Joseph Merrick was found dead in his hospital room. Almost one hundred years later director David Lynch made the now famous movie ‘The Elephant Man’ about him. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr Frederic Treves and John Hunt as Joseph Merrick the movie follows the journey of the badly physically deformed Merrick from poverty, rejection and abuse to tolerance, acceptance and dignity. Treves, a Victorian England surgeon saw past the monstrous façade of layers of disfiguring tumours to the sensitive, intelligent, poetic person within. In a poignant scene Merrick is chased by a mob until cornered in a dead-end where in the midst of howling abuse he cries out, “I am not an animal!”
For many long years after the death of his mother and the physical abuse of his father Merrick was the chief exhibit in a freak show in Leicester. Known as ‘the Elephant Man’ Joseph’s life was full of misery and rejection. Finally his ‘case’ came to the attention of a London doctor Treves who offered life’s greatest treasures; acceptance, dignity and self-worth! Treves saw beauty where others were repulsed. Treves saw the person, others only the veneer. Treves saw a story, others only a label.
Sadly too many of us are so busy we fail to see beauty. I am currently away from my community working on a book I am writing on Service Learning. On Monday I got up at my usual time for my daily sit and after lighting my candle looked out across the beach at the sunrise; a moment of beauty. How often have I rushed by the moment or scene of beauty not seeing because I am so taken up in my thoughts and worries? Remember that old saying, “Take time to smell the roses!” One of the great things about a spirituality of the present moment – of growing each day in conscious awareness is that we begin to see and truly see. We begin to see the beauty all around us. We begin to notice the butterfly or the wildflower, the beach shell or the new bud. We begin to notice the act of kindness, the greeting of hello, the twinkle in the eye or the gentle touch of love.
Conscious awareness along with appreciation and gratitude are the secrets to seeing and finding beauty in our lives. Those moments and those expressions of beauty are there, always there but so caught up in our ego roundabout or the rush and pressure of our day we either just don’t see them or are aware of them.
Beauty and seeing beauty slows us down. Can you rush through an art gallery? Can you rush through a forest? Can you garden in a hurry or rush the final words to a loved one? No, beauty ‘takes your breath away’. I love Eva Cassidy’s song, ‘You take my breath away’ – a truly beautiful, heart touching melody and lyrics. Beauty captures you. Beauty leaves you speechless – for so often words get in the way. Have you ever been at a concert or at the musical recital and wished it would never end or were disappointed when someone broke the silence by speaking? I was once driving at night with a friend and the song ‘I build myself a life’ from the movie ‘Life as a House’ was playing; there was a beautiful silence between us as I drove and I looked over at my friend to see tears gently coming down his face. It was a poignant moment, a sacred moment – a moment of beauty.
Eyes to see
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing beauty is a choice of the heart that sees past labels, that sees the truly important, that sees dignity and worth. This seeing must come from a heart that is longing and is humble enough to let go of ego and judgement and blame. As we journey into beauty seeing eyes that which once repulsed or you feared now becomes a place of encounter.
I believe we can cultivate these eyes. One of my most treasured memories from my childhood was of my mother Zena teaching me the names of all the flowers in our garden. From an early age Zena taught me when to prune the sunflowers, the Lagerstroemia or Crepe Myrtle (or Christmas bush) and the roses, how to mulch and the signs from nature to say that rain was coming. All of this I am sure gave me an appreciation of nature, an appreciation of the little things around me, an appreciation of the natural world – all of which led me to an appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. The seeds Zena planted in me that have led to awe at sunrise and sunset have also led to tears at fish kills, the rape of forests and the poisoning of the Earth.
And as Zena taught appreciation of nature she was never rushed! What I have reflected above about Zena and the natural world is paralleled in all forms of art – all forms of the heart.
Appreciation leads to beauty seeing eyes! The same Zena reminded me to call people by name, to appreciate and express gratitude for all that was and is done for me, to respect all people but not be afraid of them. The ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of our childhood days helped form eyes that saw the beauty and dignity of all for all were and are worthy of respect. One of the greatest things both Zena and my father Frank taught me was to respect and honour everyone and especially the ‘little people’ that some would label servants. The ironing lady and the gardener, both from very poor families in our town, were treated by my parents like nobility – and I am sure that in my Mum and Dad’s eyes they were. So if today I am blest with eyes that see the beauty and the dignity in all; big and small, so called important and unimportant, significant and so called insignificant – it was because two of my great life teachers lived what they preached.
I love the Namaste pose. I love the way people bring their hands together in the praying hands position and then bow low to the other – saying from their heart, “Namaste!” The Sanskrit word ‘Namaste’ and gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another! One of my friends Kate once taught a group of us the prayer of the four directions; we would face each direction in turn, stand in silence and then bow low with the Namaste pose towards that direction. It was a prayer and ritual honouring life and honouring beauty.
Beauty in the midst of pain
All around is not beautiful. There is pain and hurt, anger and oppression, violence and vengeance and hates many cousins. It is so difficult to see beauty when your heart is being torn apart. It is so difficult to find beauty when the rain-forest is bulldozed, the reefs dynamited, the slum dwellers are evicted to give way for condominiums for the rich or any soul is wrapped in the grief of loss in its thousand forms.
At times like these one can feel so powerless, so empty, so naked. Sometimes all you can do is go within to a silent place. In that silent place your heart will be held and your tears – justifiable tears – will flow and in flowing will nurture the most fragile, flickering flame of hope. Then somehow, despite the pain, you will see reflections of beauty in the protester, the poet and dreamer, the ‘no more’ chant and the courage of the little person in the face of the Goliath of hate. At times like these beauty does not dance with joy nor wrap you in warmth but it invites you to see worth and dignity and to bow with respect. Like multicoloured balls of wool intertwined beauty in the midst of pain is enmeshed with hope, meaning, courage, fidelity and awe. You may see or sense beauty during these times but you may also found yourself called into that place and journey of faith and trust that despite the darkness all around – you know that one day the dawn will come and that dawn light will reveal those strands in the ball of wool that help you begin again. Trust that feeble and flickering faith and trust!
The power of beauty
The power of beauty though is that it is timeless and unchanging in the face of all that seeks to threaten it. When beauty is at home within you and beauty has touched your eyes and your heart – you will see and acknowledge beauty all around you. But your greatest gift to us all and to the Universe will be that you will see beauty where others cannot see any. You will see beauty and hope where and when others have lost hope. You will stand courageous in the face of oppression and tyranny with a peace and a beauty that will confound those who cling to power over. And yes, in the face of that oppression and tyranny you will too see beauty and whisper forth the hidden beauty present there – even if it costs you your life.
And it may cost you your life – not necessarily the martyr’s death but you will be called fool, branded naive and simple – even stupid, one of ‘those’ and mocked while all the time you and your eyes will only ever see beauty. But it is no naive seeing. You are no doormat to be trampled over, no easy-beat nor victim to be ignored. The prophet and the dreamer, the poet and the artist of beauty – their very presence will challenge power over, will ask the question that gives life, will encourage those oppressed and will give hope for those who have lost same.
I thought I’d end by sharing this poem that I was introduced to many years ago. It was written during WW2, on the wall of a cellar, by a Jew in the Cologne concentration camp.
“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent”.