Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Let beauty awake for beauty's sake

I love this song it is just so beautiful. I intend to learn it and perform it. I have fallen deeply in love with singing again. There are so many things that I want to learn and share with the world. The ability to express the beauty of life through song is a gift I have been given and it is one I need to share more.

I have learnt and performed a couple of pieces from “Songs of Travel” in the past, but have shied away from "Let Beauty Awake". I believe that I was probably intimidated by its beauty. That a man such as I cannot sing something so beautiful. Yes I can sing out the “Vagabond” and even the sad lonely journey of “Whither must I wander”, but not this piece of elegant beauty. “Let beauty awake for beauty’s sake...awake from dreams."

I have recently discovered that I am struggling with the word beautiful. It keeps striking me, pulling me, calling out to me and I keep on turning from it. It seems I cannot quite bare its light. Maybe I’m scared of beauty?

Actually I’m not sure that is true. I adore beauty and beautiful things. What I’m actually struggling with is equating the word beauty and beautiful with me. I have felt very uncomfortable in recent weeks when people have described either myself or even something I have done as beautiful. I have shivered at the description. I have felt stripped, I have felt naked, I have felt vulnerable and I have felt emasculated. It is funny in some ways; I do have to laugh at the ludicrousness of it all.

Last week it really hit home. It happened at the barbers shop. The young woman cutting my hair began to describe me as beautiful. “You are a beautiful man” she kept saying “You have beautiful hair”. I just laughed nervously to myself and nodded and grinned and jokingly said “I cannot argue with you” I felt so very uncomfortable though and couldn’t wait to pay and get out of there. I did not like how vulnerable I felt. There have been other recent occasions too when people have described my voice as beautiful and my writing as beautiful and that I am beautiful and every time I felt deeply uncomfortable.

I went away on retreat to St Deniol’s library (Also known as Gladstone’s Library) last week. I go twice a year with the same beautiful people. It’s a time of deep intimate sharing with a group of very different individuals. Each time I have gone I have enjoyed it more and more. This time it was a truly beautiful time. I was able to explore and express this seemingly new revelation; this trouble I am having with being described as beautiful. I admitted that last time we had met that one of the members had described my hands as beautiful and how at the time this made me feel hideously uncomfortable; I also spoke of other more recent experiences too. As I spoke it began to become clear to me what the problem was. It brought me back to experiences I had several years earlier; experiences I have been reminded of in the last few days as I have heard people, in a variety of situations, describe life changing spiritual experiences that had and were transforming their lives. They have reminded me of my own experiences.

As I have said many times before I was pretty much an atheist for most of my life. I would have probably scored about 6.5 out of 7 on the “Spectrum of Theistic Probability” popularised by Richard Dawkins. Circumstances forced me to re-assess what I thought I believed. During this process it came to me that my problem was not in fact that I did not believe in God, it was that I did not believe that God believed in me. I believed I was not worthy of divine love. When I saw and accepted that this had been a barrier for so long things began to change within me and my experience of life external to me. I saw love and beauty everywhere and felt a sense of connection, like I have never known before. I now believe that at that moment, eight years ago, I began to experience what I can only describe as God’s love. I’ve never been quite the same man since.

I suspect that part of my recent problem with beauty is a remnant of that old way of living. I think it’s a kind of defence mechanism a way of controlling life to some extent and a way of keeping this divine love from me. When I look back at those spiritual experiences I had I do remember that even then I still held a tiny morsal back, did I truly let go absolutely? I suspect that part of me does not want to let go to give myself completely. The problem is of course that by rejecting love and beauty within myself I am actually rejecting that in others and it is stopping me enjoying intimacy with the people I share this beautiful world with. It is also stopping me truly expressing the love and beauty within me.

It has dawned on me once again that I do and have always lived by “The Golden Rule of Compassion” I have always treated others and loved others as I have wished to be loved and treated myself. By not acknowledging my beauty I am also denying the beauty present in all life. It would seem that I have work to do, if I want to experience the beauty present in this life; I need to acknowledge the beauty that is me in order to truly know the beauty that is in everything.

Once again I am reminded of the opening paragraph of “The Third Step: Compassion For Yourself”  From “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” by Karen Armstrong.

She said:

“The late Rabbi Albert Friedlander impressed upon me the importance of the biblical commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I had always concentrated on the first part of that injunction, but Albert taught me that if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love other people either. He had grown up in Nazi Germany and as a child was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that assailed him on all sides. One night, when he was almost eight years old, he deliberately lay awake and made a list of all his good qualities. He told himself firmly that he was not what the Nazi’s said; that he had talents and special gifts of heart and mind, which he enumerated to himself one by one. Finally he vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world. This was an extraordinary insight for a child in such circumstances. Albert was one of the kindest people I have ever met; he was almost pathologically gentle, and must have brought help and counsel to thousands. But he always said that he could have done no good at all unless he had learned, at that terrible moment of history to love himself.”

Let beauty awake, for beauty’s sake...awake from dreams.

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