The Search for Beauty

“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscapes, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul…Perhaps, for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we endure and allow. The media generate relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness in talk-shows, tapestries of smothered language and frenetic gratification. The media are becoming the global mirror and beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic. The blindness of property development creates rooms, buildings and suburbs, which lack grace and mystery. Socially, this influences the atmosphere in  the workplace, the schoolroom, the boardroom and the community. Much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. Internally, the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts which hold the radiance of beauty…Beauty is not glamour. most of what the media, the fashion world, Hollywood, the art world has to offer is glamour. Glamour, like the art world, is highly fickle and commercially driven that contributes to the ‘humdrum”. It appears and disappears while Beauty is eternal”

– John O’Donohue, “Beauty, the Invisible Embrace”
Cool dude - John O'Donohue

Cool dude – John O’Donohue

I had totally forgotten about the works of John O’Donohue until a few days ago while reorganizing my bookshelves, I found my copies “Anam Cara”, “Eternal Echoes” and “Beauty” sitting in a neglected corner. I loved the way he effortlessly merged his native Celtic wisdom of western Ireland with the mysticism of Meister Eckhart. A former Catholic priest with a PhD in philosophical theology, he left the priesthood to become a writer, activist and humanitarian. It was only when I Googled him last night that I realized he died exactly 5 years ago tomorrow when he passed over in his sleep at the abnormally young age of 52. That saddens me because he always came across as someone who seemed to have an inordinate amount of authentic wisdom about him. And not the bullshit New Age variety either, but one which was anchored deeply in personal experience, the land from which he came and pagan and Christian traditions alike. There just aren’t many of those kinds of gentle voices around anymore.
I started off this post by quoting him on Beauty. Lately I have been thinking about Beauty and aesthetics and while I know what we individually consider to be beautiful can be highly personal and subjective, I can’t help but think about what Aristotle once said, that aesthetics, like ethics and logic were faculties which a philosophically well-rounded person had to train and develop.
Smart dude - Aristotle

Smart dude – Aristotle

I’m going to be blunt and I realize I’m going to anger many people by saying this but I  find most people are missing that faculty for aesthetics. You can see it in the way they dress, the way they carry themselves, who and what they decide to surround themselves with and what they decide to occupy their thoughts on. Real beauty is found in nature but when it comes to manipulating nature to address human needs, very, very few cultures understand beauty in the way O’Donohue relates to it, along with the accompanying sense of aesthetics.
Yeah, I get it,  it's Times Square NYC, but you're going to tell me this is beautiful?

Yeah, I get it, it’s Times Square NYC, but you’re going to tell me this is beautiful?

The ancient Greeks had it.
The Greek temple at Segesta, in Sicily.

The Greek temple at Segesta, in Sicily.

Indians had it, particularly the Mughal dynasties.
The mughals were obsessed with gardens and flowers, so they decided to bring all that inside. here is a supporting column made to look like a tree. Yup, and it was all done by hand.

The Mughals were obsessed with gardens and flowers, so they decided to bring all that inside. Here is a supporting column made to look like a tree. Yup, and it was all done by hand.

Japanese also have a very unique sense of aesthetics, even down to the principles of wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection.
Interior design, wabi-sabi style

Interior design, wabi-sabi style

The Italians, from the Romans even down to today, have it in spades, they can make everything from cars to shovels to pens look beautiful.
The Arco floor lamp, originally designed by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglionii for Flos in 1962

The Arco floor lamp, originally designed by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglionii for Flos in 1962

 I find much of what we are told is beautiful to actually not be all that attractive. Walking through the downtown core of any major North American city or mall, I see nothing but usually slightly disheveled people, in polyester-blend clothing buying ugly items to fill up their homes which serves to sooth their disconnection from real beauty.
Typical mall shoppers

Typical mall shoppers

Long -gone are the days when people had their slacks ironed, with razor-sharp looking folds, when people dressed in beauty AND quality, in wool, silks, gabardine, cashmere, cotton and pure linen.
Who dresses like Katherine Hepburn anymore? Even when she's bumming around, she looks amazing.

Who dresses like Katherine Hepburn anymore? Even when she’s bumming around, she looks amazing.

I know I’m sounding like a bit of a snob, but I grew up with a mom who had pure silk saris in every color imaginable, usually with gold embroidery and a dad who dressed like Sean Connery in Dr. No. If I walked out even with slightly rumply looking jeans, I was castigated for not ironing them in advance.
Not really my mom.

Not really my mom.

Not really my dad.

Not really my dad.

I think that explains my complete disdain, even now of the suburbs. The fake lawns and gardens, the cookie-cutter housing developments, the garish strip-malls. Whenever I visit the suburbs, I always feel sleepy and excessively tired, never rejuvenated. It bothers me to no end that we live is a system where you’re told to go to university, get a degree, get a job, get married, start a family and go buy yourself a piece of this ugliness WILLINGLY.
Nothing can shake my firm belief that suburban developments and subdivisions breed  secret psycho-killers. All that lawn and artificial and enforced order...

Nothing can shake my firm belief that suburban developments and subdivisions breed secret psycho-killers. All that lawn and artificial and enforced order…

 It’s not just the suburbs, I look at modern design and what I see is novelty being passed off as beautiful. No doubt some of you receive furniture store fliers in the mail? See how modern and streamlined it all looks? I don’t see beauty here.  I see something cold, calculated and almost clinical in it’s exactitude and practically designed to make you feel ill at ease. I can’t lie down here comfortably and play with my pug. Is this a place to show off or a place to live in? Unfortunately I see most hotels, spas, restaurants, yoga studios  and condos following this aesthetic.
I do however, see beauty here. I see warmth, I see safety and I see a place someone put a lot of love into.
This isn't necessarily my style, but I love how happy the cat looks and I like the hand-made quilt.

This isn’t necessarily my style, but I love how happy the cat looks and I like the hand-made quilt.

I don’t see beauty here. I see vulgarity, crassness  and an excessive display of ostentation.
I do however see beauty here. I see a certain kind of purity in this kind of simplicity and intimacy. No statement, no big declarations. No stupid Cinderella dress and accompanying fantasy. It just is.
I know Ava Gardner was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world back in the day. She counted Spanish bull-fighters as lovers, swore like a sailor,  danced on tables and managed to keep a womanizer like Frank Sinatra on his knees most of the time in desperate submission. She even was able to make Richard Burton admit that she was the one woman in the world more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor. I don’t see a beautiful woman, maybe her features are, but I see a haughty, arrogant woman who was actually lonely and ugly deep down inside. I can say the same for Madonna.
I do however think someone like French actress Juliette Binoche is beautiful. Even if she isn’t rail-thin and is actually a fuller-figured girl, there’s a certain genuine earthiness and warmth in her which comes across naturally on screen especially in films like “Chocolat” or “The English Patient”.
Juliette Binoche

Juliette Binoche

I’m going to leave the last word with John O’Donohue. There is much wisdom in his way of looking at the world. And lots of beauty too.
Categories: Ascension, Pop culture, Raise your EQ, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “The Search for Beauty

  1. Linda-Sama

    I so love this post! white bread suburbia sucks the life out of me but my house is filled with art, indeed, wabi sabi style.

    I think what so also absolutely applies to the modern yoga world. you know what I’m talking about….;)

  2. There are people, along yoga teachers, who are “beautiful” on the outside but scratch the surface and all the ugliness becomes apparent. It’s like when you meet somone who isn’t that great looking but because they’re so nice and warm and kind, that suddenly makes them super-hot. I’ve also seen the reverse, a near-perfect looking fellow or gal, who turns out to have a bitchy or mean, aggressive personality and that somehow uglifies them. What an instant turn-off.

  3. I love the Japanese simplicity. Gives you space, serenity, and with a soul! Thanks to you, I came to realize I had wabi-sabi bowls myself. 🙂

  4. It’s rare to see people dress for beauty AND quality these days, at least in N. America. It seems to be all about having more, more, more with no regard for what you’re spending your money on. This is opposed to having a few (or several) truly beautiful items/spaces that were made/put together with care and precision, will be well loved and make you FEEL like a million bucks.

    I was in awe when I went to Italy last summer and, time and again, came across many women on their daily walk about (think going to Carrefour or out for an afternoon coffee) dressed to the nines. They looked incredible and – in my opinion anyhow – it was a testament to the Italian appreciation for beauty, as well as a culture of self-respect and self-care. Bellissima!

    • FTI, I could not agree with you more on that point. The Italians and French can wear jeans, a T-shirt and dress it up with a simple scarf and look amazingly chic, well-groomed and put together. I appreciate the European outlook where, like you said, one buys a select few pieces of clothing, made to last, may cost an arm and a leg, but you’ll wear it forever as opposed to the North American way, where everyone buys cheap, poorly constructed clothes which are worn today and thrown out tomorrow. Fast fashion outlets, like H& M, Forever 21 and Zara have done more damage than good.
      Have you ever read “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion’ by Elizabeth L. Cline? I think you’d enjoy it. Also “A guide to Elegance” by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux also gives a good glimpse into the chic French woman’s mind.

      • Completely agree on the whole fast-fashion outlet business. I haven’t read any of the books you’ve mentioned, but I am going to see if I can get my hands on them tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. Narjess

    My head aches sometimes when i’m inside surrounded by straight lines. It helps the third eye to look at things made by god, phi is everywhere in nature, it’s the basis of life and it balances you. That’s why I always keep pine cones near me if i’m too tired to leave home, I can’t begin to describe how powerful and grounding they are. True Beauty IS source.

  6. kezalu

    I have to say I love the colours and movement in the NY Times Square photo. And that sky seeping around the buildings is beautiful. Oops. Maybe I better listen to what John O’Donohue has to say.

    • Times Square is nothing special when you get there, giant mega-box stores, crazy tourists buying up everything, not unlike Las Vegas or Picadilly Circus in London. There is beauty in NYC, places like Riverside Drive, the West Village, St. John the Divine Church, parts of Central Park, people watching in Washington Square Park or Tompkins Square Park, inside the Metropolitan Museum or the Frick Collection.

  7. What a beautiful post and I agree. There is nothing ‘beautiful’ about decorating one’s home/self/world with one of a million production line created objects….I learned long ago that 2nd hand furniture/clothes/and homewares made my home and life come alive. Something a little unique that was once loved, then considered ‘old and ugly’ given a new and interesting life. I like that there are hidden secrets and stories soaked right into every pour of old timber tables and musty old arm chairs. My life has become intertwined with nature lately, there really is nothing more beautiful.
    I wish everyone could read what you’ve written here and just ‘wake up’ a little already! 😀
    Beautifu post.
    Take care from your newest follower.

  8. Thank you for the kind words yagerbabies!
    I too appreciate the old(er) over the new(er), vintage stuff was not only constructed to last a lifetime but the quality and aesthetics of certain eras also hold their own appeal. Like you wrote, they also come with their own histories and stories as well. This disposable culture is destroying us and the planet and no one seems to notice.

  9. Pingback: The Honey-Trap and the Litmus Test | The Shift Has Hit The Fan

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