Last week I spoke of our need for beauty, in nature, in works of art, in persons, and how it is sometimes only recognized when we actually experience that beauty. Beauty also reaches to our heart or core, behind all our many layers and defences. At the same time, it draws us out of ourselves, not to possess, but to appreciate.
When we have experienced the beauty of another person, we can never violate or manipulate or abuse that person. To do so we must block out any awareness of that beauty, that sacred worth. We can do so by stereotyping, by propaganda, by racism, sexism, or any other dehumanizing category
What is most striking here, though, is that what is beautiful at once reaches to our core and at the same time draws us out of that core. It at once reaches and responds to our inner core, and unveils that core to us. A closer look suggests that our inner core, our heart, is not only a place of foundational sacred worth. It is at the same time not static but is the place from which we reach out. It is a place of longing, of yearning, of unfolding. It is the home from which we endlessly leave and to which we endlessly return. It is a centre of energy. This is the energy that at once flows out from our core and gathers everything into our core.
In Greek mythology, one understanding of Eros is as the force that fuels the unfolding of the cosmos into form out of formlessness, light out of darkness, fullness out of emptiness. Above all else, Eros seems to be the energy of love.
Contemporary spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser, speaks of eros as the sacred fire within us. What we do with that fire that burns within us, how we channel that fire is our spirituality. It shapes the direction in which our life unfolds. It can be channeled ideally in a creative life-giving way, or, unfortunately, can take a destructive direction. Both Teilhard de Chardin and Albert Einstein maintain that the underlying energy in the universe is love, and that this is the energy that gives meaning to everything else.
The experience of beauty gives us a clue to the meaning of authentic love, the creative way in which our inner energy may unfold. The experience of beauty, whether in the arts or in the glimpse of the soul of a person, draws us out of ourselves, not to possess or devour, but to appreciate, even to reverence. Once in a while we may sense something of the inner spirit of another, behind any exterior masks or walls. Then we may have a sense of their beauty and a conviction that we must never violate but only honour that person.
In a similar way, love, so masterfully explored by Erich Fromm, involves the giving and receiving of self. It is the sharing of life in the sense of what is alive within us. It is communication from the heart or core. Fromm adds that only in love do we actually know another person. He also notes that it is only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose that love begin to unfold. The Dalai Lama speaks of compassion in a similar way.
Writer Ann Lamott says similar things, yet comes at the same theme from a slightly different angle. She says: “What you’re looking for is already inside you. You’ve heard this before, but the holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You can’t buy it, lease it, rent it, date it or apply for it. The best job in the world can’t give it to you. Neither can success, or fame, or financial security — besides which, there ain’t no such thing.”
She then suggests a few ways to “discover the truth of your spiritual identity.” “You feel it best when you’re not doing much–when you’re in nature, when you’re very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music. … We can see spirit made visible in people being kind to each other, especially when it’s a really busy person, taking care of a needy annoying person.”
“You are spirit, you are love,” she writes. “You’re here to love, and be loved, freely.”Finally, “all that will matter is memories of beauty, that people loved you, and you loved them, and that you tried to help the poor and innocent.”
In sum. At the sacred core of our being is a longing. Underneath all else, it is fundamentally a longing for beauty and love, for wisdom and compassion. It is a longing to give the gift of our gathered self in response to the beauty of the universe and the sacredness of self and of all that is. In the words of the poet, Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty–that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
May you ever more and more uncover the beauty of yourself and of all that is, and may you experience that beauty and its flowering in gratitude, compassion, and love.
Norman King, May 29, 2023