Life - In beauty I walk
by Aparna Sharma
One evening as the sun went down, painting the lake in a hundred shades of red, orange and crimson, a young girl sat on the bank tossing pebbles into the water. Ripple after ripple appeared in concentric circles expanding into infinity. She watched, transfixed. The spectacular beauty of the ripples mesmerised her, casting impressions that stayed a lifetime. Decades later, 36-year-old Shalu Bhuchar recalls, “For once, I saw so clearly that the smallest action of mine does not stop at me but the impact carries on from person to person till I don’t know where.” That one scene of one of the many hundred evenings over a lifetime left such a strong imprint that beauty and nature became an essential part of Shalu’s work as a Learning and Development consultant.
Yamini from Dwarka (NCR) shares how beauty became her path when she started painting. This 23-year-old paints only from a space of beauty within her. “Beginning like an amateur, painting mountains and streams, I suddenly quit when I painted a Ganesha. I began to realise that I can paint well only when it comes from a space within. Painting from a space of beauty within me has changed my paintings and has changed me as well,” she shared. For Yamini, her art became her path as she tried to tap into that space of beauty within, and it changed her life course. “Once when I hit a rough phase in life, feeling utterly hopeless and useless, my self-esteem at an all time low, I learnt mosaic. And then I learnt candle-making. I started making mosaics and candles just for the sake of creating them, one after the other. On one Diwali we lit 350 candles at home. The dazzling beauty of the golden flames changed my perspective about myself completely. I was not useless. I was beautiful. It felt amazing. It changed my course forever. Now this artist follows only the path of beauty as her meditation, seldom charging for her paintings. “It is something holy for me. I cannot charge money for my creations.”
They say when the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, ventured into outer space, his first lesson was not in astronomy or science but in beauty.
“What beauty! I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth. The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots. When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-coloured surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich colour spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.” Alan Shepard, the NASA astronaut, echoes, “If somebody had said before the flight, ‘Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?’ I would have said, ‘No, no way.’ But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried.”
However, we do not have to go to the moon to appreciate the beauty of the earth. The intricate swirls of rose petals or the strength of a grand oak tree are incredibly small fractions of the beauty surrounding us. The fluttering butterfly, the patient ladybird, the curl of a newborn’s fingers, the deep blue oceans and playful mountain streams, glacial peaks and eerily empty deserts, a raindrop pausing tentatively at the tip of the leaf and a bird singing much before the sun has come up are only a beginning of the incomprehensible vastness of beauty in the universe.
Why is beauty appealing?
Why has the concept of beauty held such a significant role in human consciousness down the ages?
Spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, says, “When you look upon another human being and feel great love towards them, or when you contemplate beauty in nature and something within you responds deeply to it, close your eyes for a moment, and feel the essence of that love or that beauty within you, inseparable from who you are – your true nature.”
He talks about the first time a man might have marvelled at the beauty of a flower, a thing otherwise utterly unprofitable to him. In that moment his consciousness took a giant step from the mundane to the sublime. The first time beauty appeared in its highest form in any element, heralds the evolutionary transformation of its consciousness, says Tolle. The first flower to bloom, the first mammal who flew instead of crawling, the first rock that crystallised and turned into a jewel – represented the self-realisation of each of these life forms. One day, a critical threshold was reached and the first flower appeared. One day, a critical threshold was reached and a man became a Buddha, a teacher, a sage.
Beauty in various traditions
Virtually every religious and spiritual tradition has looked at beauty as an image of God. The magnificent cathedrals, the vast spaciousness of ornate mosques, the serenity of Zen gardens, and the majestic temple spires are an attempt to recreate the marvel of the beauty of God. Hindus in the subcontinent have always loved to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and the embodiment of beauty.
About her, Sri Aurobindo wrote, “Harmony and beauty of the mind and soul, harmony and beauty of the thoughts and feelings, harmony and beauty in every outward act and movement, harmony and beauty of the life and surroundings, this is the demand of Mahalakshmi. But all that is ugly, mean, and base, all that is poor, sordid, and squalid, all that is brutal and coarse repels her advent. Where love and beauty are not or are reluctant to be born, she does not come; where they are mixed and disfigured with baser things, she turns soon to depart or cares little to pour her riches.
The Hindu seers equated truth, God, and beauty when they said ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram.’
The poet John Keats echoed this connection when he sang “ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’– that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." The Sufis, all over the Arabic and Persian world related beauty in the form of Saki (or God). Much of their poetry is infused with references to the ‘celestial drink’, a secret, sacred drink that imparts wisdom and bliss — wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, virgin’s milk. However, the ‘saki’ they talk about is not a woman, the ‘wine’ they talk about is not wine, and the mystic’s drunkenness is not intoxication. In fact the entire effort of the Sufi is to remain wrapped in the beauty of the Supreme Beloved, in ishq.
The Greeks worshipped Aphrodite as the goddess of love and beauty. The Bible asserts, “God made man in his own image.” Hafiz, the Persian poet, was enamoured by the beauty of the angel Gabriel and thus started his search for the Creator of that beauty.
By and by we come from formless beauty to beauty worshipped in a form. Meera fell in love with the beautiful idol form of Krishna. The entire Vaishnav sect revels in the beauty of ‘leelas’ of their very beautiful gods. The Shakta poets worshipped the beauty of Mother Goddess. In fact, as per legend the Southern doors of the Kanyakumari temple at the Southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula are kept closed through most of the year. As per ancient legends, the brilliance of the goddess’s nose ring was such that it would dazzle and blind the mariners on the sea causing shipwrecks. Thus was the effect of beauty!
The beauty formula
How often has man tried to imitate the Divine or the unsurpassable beauty of nature? We have studied patterns, coined formulas, copied endless diagrams to emulate the beauty in nature. Mathematical considerations, such as symmetry and complexity have been used to study aesthetics. Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of the human body emphasised that it is the proportion or the ratio called ‘Golden mean’, which is at the root of all beautiful faces, shapes, and patterns. He gave the formula for this Golden mean or Golden ratio based on the mathematical series of Fibonacci numbers wherein the division of any two adjacent numbers gives the amazing Golden number which mathematicians call ‘phi’ (Golden Ratio or Golden Section): Φ=1.618. Da Vinci studied that the proportions of any beautiful human face follows the Golden Ratio in the proportions of the length of the nose, the position of the eyes and the length of the chin. Similarly, buildings are more attractive if the proportions used follow the Golden Ratio. The incredible design and beauty in leaves, flowers, vegetables, sea shells, earth patterns, galaxies, virtually any shape in nature follows this ratio based on the Fibonacci series. Da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man (based on the work of the ancient architect Vitruvius) represents the beauty, complexity, and symmetry of the human frame and represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature.
Beauty as a healing tool
The beauty in nature has a therapeutic effect on almost everybody. In my personal life, whenever the going got tough, I sat under a tree, feeling the beauty of its leaves, branches, fragrance, feeling its very pulse in my entire being. It has been therapeutic for me. The beauty in nature or the lyrics of a song give me the solace no amount of therapy can.
Dr. Rashmi Menon, a 36-year-old doctor turned psychotherapist from Mumbai shares, “ When one is in a depression, one feels a sense of loss. This could be loss of power, of creative potential. What brings about healing is when a person is himself able to create objects of beauty. Creating gives them a sense of empowerment, restores the belief in their creative abilities or usefulness.”
Her patient, Mr P, age 37, though very goal-oriented in his professional life, would be at a loss when it came to making big decisions in his personal life, especially where emotions were involved. He felt like a loser and would totally give up on situations feeling utterly useless and helpless.
Phi or the ratio of the golden mean Φ=1.618
is the secret behind the symmetry of this
beautiful staircase On probing his creative potential, she unearthed his inherent belief that ‘I am good at nothing creative’. On questioning further, he admitted that actually he was good at organising things, had a great sense of what would match with what, be it people, skills, or interior decor. So Dr Rashmi asked him whether he enjoyed collage work. He jumped up and said, “Yes! I used to do it a lot during my school days.”
She suggested that whenever he was stuck at the crossroads of decision making, he should set a timer for 15 minutes, pick up some newspapers and scissors and start a postcard-size collage. Though reluctant at first, he slowly agreed to give it a try. Sure enough, on the next visit, he seemed much more confident about taking decisions and by and by he regained his sense of power, simply by tapping his creative potential and feeling the joy of creation through his art.
Over the history of healing therapies, healers have used objects, which signify the summit of beauty – flowers, crystals, fragrances, lights, and colours have been used to heal everything from a bruised knee to a broken heart. Simply to behold a thing of beauty – a calm sunset, a rainbow, the vivid colours of the sky or the drifting of a white cloud, every such phenomenon creates a sanctuary for the soul, a space to heal and rejuvenate.
Why? Because through all these media, a person reaches that space of perfect harmony, perfect beauty, perfect joy or bliss or a sense of complete fulfillment. That space is not that difficult to find, says Tolle.
“Whenever there is beauty, kindness, the recognition of the goodness of simple things in your life, look for the background to that experience within yourself. It is space – it is stillness, the sweetness of Being and infinitely more than these words, which are only pointers. When you appreciate something simple – a sound, a sight, a touch – when you see beauty, when you feel loving kindness toward another, sense the inner spaciousness that is the source and background to that experience.
Open your eyes to beauty
They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. This makes sense. For when we are too occupied with our own worries, anxieties, and thoughts, we are not able to perceive any beauty in ordinary things. It takes a great deal of effort to clear up our minds of the mental noise to reach that empty space within, which, in itself, is effortless.
Anthony de Mello relates the story of a prisoner who lived in solitary confinement for years. He saw and spoke to no one and his meals were served through an opening in the wall. One day an ant came into his cell. The man contemplated it in fascination as it crawled around the room. He held it in the palm of his hand to observe it better, gave it a grain or two, and kept it under his tin cup at night. One day it suddenly struck him that it had taken him 10 long years of solitary confinement to open his eyes to the beauty of an ant.
Eckhart Tolle gives a few pointers, “If you are able to enjoy simple things like listening to the sound of the rain or the wind; if you can see the beauty of clouds moving across the sky or be alone at times without feeling lonely or needing the mental stimulus of entertainment, it means that the space has opened up, no matter how briefly, in the otherwise incessant stream of thinking that is the human mind.”
When this happens there is a sense of well-being, an alive peace, what we, in the Indian tradition, call ‘ananda’. We are able to see beauty when we have that inner space open within us. And on the corresponding side, that inner space opens within us, when we happen to see beauty.
Beauty can heal
The Navajo people of American Indians caught the essence of all spiritual practice in their blessing “walking in beauty.” Beauty is both a path you travel and what surrounds you on the path. In the splendour of the Creation, we see its outer forms. In stillness and silence, we recognise its divinity in our own beings. I used this poem as a therapy for self-healing last winter. It worked wonders for me, every word soaking my inner being. I walked reading the lines of the poem, repeating them to myself, almost like a chant, getting to the very essence of every line with every step I took on the grass.
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
The words somehow, seemed powerfully therapeutic, having an instant affect on me. I felt beauty all around me, within me, instantly healing me from within.
Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I seemed to shed the load of centuries I had carried upon my heart. I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
With every step, time faded and all my life, all seasons lived and yet to come seemed to come together in the single moment as I walked
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.
In retrospect, I realise that like the ripples Shalu saw on the lake, these words of beauty have expanded in concentric circles within my soul. I have learnt to pick up joy in the smallest things of beauty. I started learning music again, after years. The first notes of the harmonium at home have opened up ways to savour beauty in all forms. I have started wearing a bindi and little trinkets, and the other day, on an impulse, my friend Rati and I went and got mehndi done on our hands, I have been revisiting favourite old Deepti Naval songs; in the meantime the ‘parijat’ has bloomed at home …wait a minute, is it spring already?
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Subject: The Circle of Eloquence - 7 December 2012
Aparna your article creates ripples of eloquence, beauty and purity...always a pleasure to read you !
by: Nandini Sarkar
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