October 4, 2017 – Brave for beauty

Life has pulled me away from my art a lot these past few months. It is so good to be in my newly beautified “room-of-my-own” working on a painting!

Listen to this post:

Weeks like this one are a challenge for me as a writer – when the world is particularly stirred up – fears, anger, uncertainty in all of us flare after events like the one that just happened in Las Vegas.  What do I do?  Do I chime in with my own reflections and thoughts?  If I do am I adding to the consuming nature of it all?  But to say nothing seems tone-deaf.  I’ve been resisting sitting down to write this week because of this conundrum.  What I’ve come to this morning is that I will write what I was going to write about with the intention that it be exactly what is needed today.

I’ve been immersed in the illuminations that came through the human treasure who was John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, theologian and philosopher who died unexpectedly in his sleep, a few days after his 52nd birthday at the start of 2008.  Before he left the world, he gave us writings and recordings of his ideas and teachings that are a wealth of inspiration to me today, almost 10 years after he died.  I’ve been listening to an audio book called “Beauty – the Invisible Embrace.”  The book was first published in 2004 after a two-year investigation into what is exactly the nature of beauty, which he defines as anything in the presence of which we feel more alive.

He starts with these thoughts:

The human soul is always 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, because the experience of beauty is like a homecoming.  When we feel and know and touch the beautiful we feel that we are at one with ourselves, because in some subtle and secret way, beauty meets the needs of the soul.  Our times are riven with anxiety.  The natural innocence and trust that we had in our sensibilities in the Western world have been broken.  The innocence is lost.  And we know now that anything can happen from one minute to the next.  We live in very uncertain times.  Politics cannot help us because it has become synonymous with economics.  Religion has gotten in to the mathematics of morality and economics itself as the presiding world ideology has become radically uncertain.

I believe that now is the time to invoke and awaken beauty, because in a sense there is nowhere else left to go.  And because the situation in which we are in has been caused substantially by our denial of beauty.  In a way all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty itself.  When you look at post-modern society it’s absolutely astounding how much ugliness we are willing to endure.  When you look at media, the way in its talk shows which have tapestries of smothered language and standards of mediocracy and dullness that seem to be the norm, you realize how this dulls and deadens the human spirit.  And when this false standard manages to present itself as normal, it seems to make real beauty an exception and to be something naïve.  And this is a huge falsification.

I suppose innocence for our generation was lost on 9/11/2001, but it seems even just 10 years ago we weren’t nearly as on edge as we are now.  We hadn’t yet elected Barack Obama president – with the backlash this unleased, the financial world melt down and mortgage crisis hadn’t yet happened, there was no ISIS, no home-grown terrorists, the mass shootings in our country hadn’t included an elementary school, a black church, a gay nightclub or a country music concert.  And we hadn’t yet seen the disintegration of the political and social structures of our society as we have in the past year – we certainly weren’t conscious of how deep and biting are the divisions between large swaths of our fellow country people.  Given this, I’m stunned by the way that these words he spoke, more than a decade ago, feel even more relevant and urgent today.

The way we’ve shunned beauty and how we’ve narrowed it, making it synonymous with glamor and physical appearance, has reduced its place in our lives.  Along with innocence, we’ve lost the potency of beauty.  In this very moment just thinking about asserting we need a return to beauty – how beauty will save the world – has a part of me rise up in fear to the reaction I’d receive.  The fear says this idea will be shot down –that believing a return to beauty is the answer to all the darkness in the world is completely naïve.  We need to fight, we need to rise up, we need to counter the ugliness – with what?  More ugliness?  Let us resist ugliness – for the sake of all that is beautiful.  And let’s do it with beauty.

I take great encouragement – literally – en-courage-ment from what John O’Donohue is saying.  I make art that is in some circles too obvious to be interesting.  What I make isn’t edgy, doesn’t have much of a message – I’m not pushing some envelope of social change.  There’s no protest, I’m not in your face.  But I do hear allthetime… that what I make is beautiful.  I have had people – including one man – walk through my booth at an art festival and have tears come to them.  They seem embarrassed by their tears. But their tears tell me I’m on the right track.  Who doesn’t want to witness that the creative work coming through them touches hearts – moves them to tears?

I’ve been writing about the power of creativity and beauty and giving ourselves the permission to love – and paint – what we love for over a year.  Today my conviction that we must stay this course as we watch the cracks in the structures that have held our world together appear to grow ever wider and deeper.  I’m recalling another book that has crawled in and taken root inside the deepest parts of me.  I read and listened to it earlier this year and wrote this about it in a post in February:

On vacation I started reading a book called “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” by Charles Eisenstein.  I told someone that I was reading this book and the response I got was “that sounds like a book you would read.”  I get it.  The title containing the word “beautiful” does seem to make it right up my alley.  But what Charles Eisenstein means when he uses the word “beautiful” is beyond what people associate with me and what I do.  He’s talking about living inside an entirely new story that holds every part of modern life differently.  A beautiful world is not simply one with physical beauty for our eyes to take in, but is filled with generosity, forgiveness, kindness and humor – which we see with our hearts rather than our eyes.  It is also a world that is in harmony with the planet and with each other – beyond scarcity, starvation and war.

I got the same “that sounds like you” reaction from more than one person.  Today I feel a fierceness, an irritation about this reaction.  The question I ask is why don’t you want to run out and read that book this second?  What kind of world do you want to be living in?  But what I really want is for everyone I know to get on board the beauty bandwagon.  Join me; make it a practice, a focus, an intention.  Make it your religion – this is what the Dalai Lama means when he says that kindness is his religion.  Kindness is a form of beauty.  Our souls are aching for us to do this.

Instead of taking in endless details about the ways in which people are suffering in the hurricanes, earthquakes and acts of horrific violence, or how scandalous what the politicians in charge are saying is, fill yourself with the ideas that a more beautiful world is possible.  In case it’s helpful – here are some places to start:

You might read or re-read some of my posts:
• May, 31, 2016 – Love what you love
• June 21, 2016 – Modern Art, Is it love?
• August 16, 2017 – Just make beauty
• November 8, 2016 – What the world needs now (on reverence)
• November 15, 2016 – Dancing in the Dark
• December 6, 2017 – All the light we can and cannot see
• January 10, 2017 – Beauty is everywhere
• February 15, 2017 – Beauty will save the world
• February 22, 2017 – Making beauty a practice
• April 12, 2017 – When love leads

If you are short on time and space to take in yet more information (I so get it), scan to the bottom few paragraphs of my posts, where I generally come to the nut of the message I’m sharing.

For more, you can read and/or listen to what I am:
The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein (audio, e-book and paper book formats)
Charles Eisenstein interview with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday (free)
• Beauty – The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue – paper book, audio
John O’Donohue interview by Krista Tippett, OnBeing.org – Inner Landscape of Beauty (free)

Yesterday I heard John O’Donohue, in his gorgeous Irish brogue say that we have to have “courage for beauty.”  I’m sticking with my word – brave.

We must be brave for beauty.

I will always encourage everyone who has the call to create, in whatever way you do, to do so – it is life changing.  But this is more than making beautiful things.  It’s committing to living our lives so we create this more beautiful world – as much as we can – knowing that we are human, we are people of our times, that life has its own timing and imperfection has its own beauty.  I feel a lightness lying right next to my fierceness inside.  It is reminding me that a more beautiful world won’t come unless it shines through.

With my love, with my brave and with the beauty our souls ache for,

Cara

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