Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BEAUTY

Morning light on a sycamore leaf.

"Everybody," wrote John Muir, "needs beauty as well as bread." 

As much as I'd like to believe this statement, I've known individuals whose lives were too filled with themselves to allow beauty in any form to enter their darkened consciousness. Nothing, not a flower or sunset or range of mountains lifting into the the sky was, to them, beautiful. They saw no beauty in art, heard no beauty in music, the song of a bird, or the laughter of a child. To acknowledge beauty would be to acknowledge something greater than themselves—a  power capable of stirring their soul. 

The flip side of this reflects the thinking of Kahlil Gibran: "When you reach the heart of life, you shall find beauty in all things." 

No, sorry to disagree again, but just as there are individuals oblivious to beauty, there are also things devoid of beauty. Hatred is not beautiful. Neither is cancer. War is sometimes necessary—and I certainly believe fighting is justified for those things we hold most dear; on this point I'm more hawk than dove. I also believe there are moments of beauty to be found within war…acts of courage and compassion, both of which are beautiful. But war is not beautiful. The list of not beautiful things is as long a Marley's chain—from the loss of whole mountains to surface mining to the stinking concrete clutter of industrial sprawl to the brown plume of chemical waste pumping into the turquoise of an ocean bay. Beautiful? Not in the least! 

I do like what Thoreau wrote. "The perception of beauty is a moral test." 

Here, I think, we come to the crux of the matter, to what I believe and feel about beauty. "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful," said Emerson, "for beauty is God's handwriting—a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." In this declaration I find both discernment and reason. Not all things are beautiful, but when you come upon those which are, take the time to savor the gift. For in so doing we open our hearts to receive the positive power of beauty—the peace and uplift, the blessing. At the same time we renew our connection to that great force which lies beyond us as mere individuals—the power of nature and love that resonates in our soul. 

In beauty we find both our humanity and creator.
———————

20 comments:

Gail said...

HEY GRIZZ- this is a wonderful, thoughtful, strong and honest writing. And your picture? Beautiful. So nice to visit with yu today and listen intently to your words of wisdom. Feels like a 'creed'. I am stirred and inspired by you so often. "Thank you"
Love and high regard
Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Hey, that was quick! Thank you for your lovely comments. I always look forward to hearing from you, and hope you always find something worthwhile—or at least amusing!—in the posts and pix.

I trust the remodeling is going well, and that you are doing okay, healthwise. It's hot here, but not insufferably so…yet. The river is pretty and the fish are biting.

Be good…

Bonnie said...

So many interesting reflections here Grizz.

I so agree with you on the Muir quote. I once refused to accompany my DH to any more business dinners with a couple whose narcissism prevented them from revelling in a sunset, enjoying the play of light through stained glass or stopping to admire a flower, etc. No appreciation of beauty, no basis for a friendship ... for me.

I'm a little more open to Gibran's words. While there is no beauty in the entirety of certain situations, realities, scenes ... I have often been able to find beauty in the tiniest parts of the whole. The play of light on a tiny flower growing through urban cement, the beauty of compassion that is felt around a death bed, the rainbow swirl in a filthy stain of oil on pavement, etc. There was even beauty in my daughter's experience with cancer - alongside the agony and horror.

I have also had the repeated experience of feeling almost revulsion at the physical appearance of a client, upon first meeting. After months of working together and getting to know the person, I was baffled recalling my initial reaction - for I now experienced their physical attributes as truly beautiful. Perhaps it takes time, sometimes, to find what is beautiful - and when you do it outshines what is ugly. (I'm only talking about 'outer' beauty here.)

Love your reference to Emerson's phrase, 'beauty...a wayside sacrament'.

Reading your reflections is always a rewarding and uplifting gift in the midst of my day.

Gail said...

H i again - the remodeling is going very well - exhausting and lovely. :-) Our bedreoom, with its 'tree-houe' theme is so inviting and natural - AND the picture over our bed is one I took of the last time me, Mom and Sis were together at Chatfield Hollow Park gathering greens for the graves. It is a beautiful picture (if I do say so myself) and I had it blown up to 36wx24h and on canvas. We had it fit into the frame we had of a different painting and it came out amazing. I plan on taking some pictures of our 'new look' and I plan on positing them. Phew. My health is okay, all things considered - I am holding steady. Hallelujah! Today is our last day of tolerable weather, tomorrow it will soar into the 90's and close to 100 by Thursday. I will stay put in the A/C. How are you and yours. Good to hear the river is in full natural mode offering its beauty and bounty to you. Have a wonderful day.
Love Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

You comments are, as always, wonderfully thoughtful—which is why I always appreciate hearing from you.

I expect we've all run across an example or two of those individuals whose narcissism makes them oblivious to beauty in a near sociopathic way. And I always wonder if their pathology makes them immune to beauty willingly or unconsciously? Do they just not recognize beauty in anything other than themselves, or are they also incapable of seeing anything in themselves beautiful—and is this a choice?

No, Muir's quote, though applicable to most, is simply not true for everyone.

While I understand your defense of beauty within a situation, I still believe that those are islands amidst a not beautiful sea…but NOT a part, rather separate, a place of beauty aside. The flower blooming in the concrete crack is indeed beautiful; the industrial sprawl isn't. A cancer cell stained and seen through a microscope might resemble an abstract work of art…but the cancer itself is not, IMHO, beautiful. The sheen of an oil stain could be one of those situational calls—beautiful, perhaps, when the oil is bubbling from the ground in a natural outflow—not beautiful if it's pouring from a rent in the sea floor and killing everything in its path. The curl of blood on a sidewalk from the wound of a dying teenager, stabbed by his best friend over a video game, simply can't be isolated from the whole (in my mind) and pronounced beautiful.

Please don't think I'm trying to be argumentative. My point is just that beauty in certain situations stands alone; it is not a part of the whole. In reality, I expect we're both saying—and thinking—the same way.

Your acknowledgment of judging a patient on first sight is simply something all of us tend to do with people we meet—a human frailty which allows us to make instant decisions on where and how to classify people into types rather than individuals. We judge by looks, smells, speech, dress, social class, race, skin color, education, nervous tics, age, interests, beliefs, and dozens of similar possibly-misleading criteria. New people either "pass" or "fail" our split-instant judgements. The humbling part is how often we're just totally wrong…as you also note. One of the real blessings of the human experience is getting to know the beauty of individuals.

I thought it interesting how we both posted along similar lines today—and did so at almost the same time. You regularly, through your writing and art, reveal a great deal of beauty…and I can't help but believe this constant outpouring is simply the overflow from a beautiful heart.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree on the whole with what you say Grizz. Regarding cancer I am always struck by the beauty of the photographs of cancer cells and then the utter ugliness of the disease itself.

Bonnie said...

Ah Grizz - I'm deeply touched. Your last comment is so timely (needed), for lately I have been acutely aware of many of the not so beautiful, shadow aspects of myself. It is good to hear you reflect on the possibility of a 'beautiful heart' shining out from between the shadows.

Of course, we all start off with, and some develop exceptionally beautiful hearts. The work is to peel away the many defensive layers that obscure its light. Being told that someone I respect sees a few rays, encourages me to remember and believe in the light and warmth within. Thank you.

Oh - I do agree that we are probably on the same page with regard to beauty - just expressing it differently. I can certainly understand wanting to make the distinction between what is vile and what is beautiful by keeping them separate. I suppose otherwise it would be too easy to be seduced by the beautiful 'part', and perhaps make excuses for the not so beautiful 'whole'. I don't take your point as argumentative. A fresh perspective cleanses habitual perceptions.

Hope there are cool breezes coming off the river - it's awfully hot across the continent.

Michael Bartneck said...

Life generally refers to living things and the heart ,a metaphor for the center of understanding them. War and pollution would not fit these bounds but what would I,a man unworthy of your following know?

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Glad to hear your remodeling is going well…only wish I could say the same re. our projects. (Actually, it's not the "well" part that's the issue—it's the "going.")

That tree-house inspired bedroom and picture over your bed sounds lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing the post.

It hit 92˚F here today, is 91 a right now, and will be in the mid-90s tomorrow. Summer isn't here, but the heat is. Egads! Thursday is again 91 with rain, and rain for the next couple of following days. Just enough for a good swelter.

Keep up the good reports re. health. You can make a real difference by being cautious—and thus have a lot more fun this summer with good friends, good food, and good times. Who knows the delightful trouble you can get yourself into! ;-D

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I've seen it written what a "beautiful" sight that mushroom cloud was when the first A-bomb was dropped on Japan. No, it wasn't. The word to describe the instant vaporizing of all those people simply can't be the same noun you'd employ when speaking about a work by Michelangelo, Botticelli, or Rembrandt.

I feel the same way about using the word "beauty" to describe cancer cells.

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

First off, I'm relieved that you had no problem with what I said as being argumentative. I think of you as someone with whom I can discuss things respectfully and still be friends. I don't ever want to upset any reader of these posts…though I will stick to my guns re. certain things.

And you have hit exactly on the reason why I make the distinction of beauty found in certain situations. If Hitler had been a "beautiful" man, would he have been any less evil? More importantly, wouldn't the word, if regularly applied to his features as a descriptive noun, have subsequently lost something fundamental? Could you later apply to word to, say, a child and it carry the original positive meaning? I don't words ruined by such use…and I don't want to somehow soften the impact of the ugly and evil.

Finally, please be assured I meant every word I said about your beautiful heart…and I don't think it barely shines out of the shadows, either. I don't see how anyone could read your posts and see your art and not know the heart and soul of the person behind them. All good art is intimately revealing. You know the quote from—who else!—Emerson: "Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art." You are well within that circle.

Grizz………… said...

Michael…

Well, you've certainly been hiding out—tramping the woods and fields, I suppose. Glad to hear from you, though.

Now, I agree that life, in one sense, refers to living things. And of course pollution and war would not fit this criteria. But life as a word can also refer to the socioeconomic aspects of our existence, the culture, the milieu in which we spends our lives. As when we speak of the "American way of life." Not itself a living thing, but a place in which living is done. You also "make a living." War is a culture as well as an act, and an environment. Pollution can destroy a way of life.


However, I don't believe I actually said either pollution or war was living, but that they weren't beautiful.

Finally, I do hope you were kidding around when you said, "what would I, a man unworthy of your following, know?" If I've ever said anything which gave you that impression, I'm truly sorry. I would never ever mean to imply such a thing.

Robin said...

But Grizz.... I think the operative word is 'need'. Everyone NEEDS beauty. The quote doesn't say everyone sees it or recognizes it or even takes it in, when they do.

I think everyone Does need beauty. I think that if, for whatever reason, people can't see it, then beauty can't manifest itself in their spirit. Doesn't mean they don't need it; it just, sadly, means they don't see it: the doorway is blocked.

When I was little, my Dad would take me on his lap under the carport during thunderstorms and make the entire night magical for me. I've loved storms ever since.

On the other hand I work with an intelligent, masculine, hard-working man who is terrified of lightening. All I want to do during a storm is hold him tight and show him the beauty of it... but he wouldn't be able to see it. He might need to see the beauty of it, but his fear won't allow him to.

As for what Thoreau said?

Amen.

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

I'm sure you're right in the broader, visionary sense. Finding value in beauty is one of the distinguishing characteristics of us humans—possibly unique. And this is doubtless the view Muir held. But, much as I wish it weren't the case, I do sincerely believe there are individuals who simply don't need beauty.

Consider this: you could also say everyone needs love. Exactly the same issues apply. And I think most would agree that for love to be complet, it must be both given and returned. Love is circular. So, too, in a way, is beauty. Sure, a rose or sunset doesn't know they're beautiful. But we see them, find them beautiful, place that acknowledgement and appreciation somewhere inside us…and I firmly believe give it back in some way—not to the rose or sunset, but to those who touch our lives.

So in that way love and beauty are similar. And yet, a sociopath, lacking a conscience, can neither give nor receive love. They are just hardwired differently. They don't need love. And something similar is at work in the individuals who don't need beauty.

This is just my theory. I believe there are such folks. Don't want to believe it, but I do. And frankly, Robin, I hope you're right and I'm wrong. I hope everyone, on an individual basis, truly needs beauty. But I fear this is just a more idealistic stance than my experience justifies.

Hey, I love hearing how your Dad taught you to love thunderstorms. Mom used to give me a quilt and allow me to huddle on the front porch…at least until the storm got too close and the rain really began blowing in and getting me and the quilt wet. I love thunderstorms, too.

Von Goethe said, "The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone." I think this is true, but sad. Beauty is best shared.

The Solitary Walker said...

God's handwriting. The blessing of beauty. A beautiful post, Grizz.

I very much enjoyed your dialogue with Bonnie. Could it be said that you are describing more of a Platonic and moral sense of beauty, with Bonnie coming from more of a situational, aesthetic, existential angle?

Whatever, I believe that beauty need not be in the eye of the beholder, for that eye is blind in some (for all sorts of unfortunate environmental, experiential and sociopathic reasons). Beauty can be felt, thought, seen, heard, touched, witnessed - in many surprising and potentially ugly situations too. We just have to discover it. And sometimes it may burst out all around us without our seeking it.

Grizz………… said...

Solitary Walker…

You know what, Solitary, this simple beauty discussion has gotten so far into the realm of conceptual abstract philosophy that I'm not even sure I understand what I'm saying…let alone Bonnie, Robin, and now you. Myladylove and I spent most of yesterday working in the yard in the 90˚F-plus temperatures, planting seeds and seedlings—and every so often I'd come inside for more rounds of iced tea and a whack at answering one of the post comments. I believe my brain was simply too fried to realize the depths into which I'd waded—and fear it had also been rendered incapable of composing an intelligible sentence.

Now, with that disclaimer and caveat…

I actually think Bonnie, Robin, and I are all mostly on the same page. I do, however, believe, as Thoreau said, that "the perception of beauty is a moral test." A former sniper in the Vietnam War once described to me watching through his riflescope and witnessing the moment when his bullet found the mark. "Man, seeing those gook's heads explode…that was a beautiful thing!" he gushed. Nope, not beautiful…for the same reason a cancer cell seen through a microscope isn't beautiful, or a sea turned scarlet with the blood of harpooned whales isn't beautiful. In spite of the eye of the beholder, some things just aren't beautiful.

Extreme examples, I know. But they show the validity of the moral testing. The moral component must be in place. You can't simply declare a thing beautiful and make it so. Most importantly in my mind, they illustrate the difference between those moments of beauty interjected into an ugly or horrific scene…and part of the ugly or horrific scene itself being beautiful. The flower blooming in the midst of the battlefield is not the battle—not part of the bloodshed and death and agony of the fight. And this placement seems to me, to necessarily be based on a moral conclusion.

Of course all this is much too serious for about 99.9 percent of the situations. The orange day lilies just now starting to bloom hereabout are unequivocally beautiful. Not by intention…they're just a part of the plant's reproductive cycle. A pretty girl all dressed up for a Friday night date is beautiful by intention. So are the texturized photos Bonnie produces.

For me, the real gray areas of this whole concept often come into play when I'm photographing certain flowers or birds. For example, dandelions are my favorite cooked greens. I've loved them since early childhood. I also like the looks of dandelion blooms, big bright-yellow flowers that look like miniature suns. Yet the neighbor looking to maintain a pristine green lawn might think them the ugliest thing that grows. Just differing opinions? Sure. But what about lesser celandine? As an invasive here in the U.S. it is choking out native wildflowers and turing riverine woodlands into monoculture habitats. Are its flowers rightly beautiful? Is is okay to say the cocky little house sparrow is beautiful? Beats me!

To again quote Kahlil Gibran: "We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”

Bernie said...

Beautiful post my friend, I have to honestly say I am mostly dove with little if any hawk in me at all. I see beauty in all things but then I consider life to be beautiful.....:-)Hugs

Grizz………… said...

Bernie…

Your spirit always comes across as sweet and gentle, and the world would be a better place if more folks were like you. Really, I'm mostly that way—and I don't want you to think too badly of me when I say I'm more hawk than dove. But the truth is I think those things you love and believe in are worth defending. I'm sure you do, too. The key word is "defending." The pacifist ideal that all disputes can always be settled peacefully is pure fantasy. Compromise isn't always an option or acceptable. So in that respect, I am a hawk…but otherwise, a big 'ol marshmallow.

I also consider life on the whole to be beautiful and precious. But I don't see beauty all living things, mostly those having to do with disease; and of course there are people whose lives and works are not beautiful—though here, to make the distinction, you must delve into the moral aspects of the individual and acts rather than the lifeforce itself.

I'm probably explaining all this rather poorly…

Freda said...

And it's good for us to consciously look for the beauty in each day. At night I try to think back to the beauty or the special, then I give thanks. It helps, and is an option even in the midst of suffering. Thanks for your thoughts - a great challenge.

Grizz………… said...

Freda...

I always try and do the same thing, find and recall the beauty in a given day. It isn't always...but it is always there. Happiness is a choice.