Notes on Beauty

Source: Lead Kindly Light: Notes on the Way

Beauty in its essence is one of the everlasting Powers of God. We cannot hope to comprehend it. As with Truth and Goodness we cannot somehow rise above it to consider it objectively, in the round, as it were; we cannot pass cool judgement on its actual nature. For man to gaze upon Beauty itself is impossible; and even when that Beauty is reflected in the splendour of the heavenly realms it cannot be defined or translated into words. It cannot in any way be weighed or measured; and nor will it ever be contained by the intellectual theories of man.

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However, beauty manifests to a greater or lesser extent on every level of being. In each realm we perceive a reflection or shadow of the beauty that exists on a higher plane. In the realm we occupy on Earth the eyes of men are veiled to protect them from the sublime power of its divine light. And yet even here the merest glimpse of its inner nature has the power to utterly shock. It is these glimpses of reflected, veiled beauty that are so important to those who would seek the ancient way. Being able to attune with the truly beautiful is essential to our progress on the path, and brings with it many unforeseen blessings. To lower men beauty in whatever form it takes is something to be suspicious of; to the lower still it is to be feared and resented, though they might deny it – even at times to themselves. And to the lowest of all, beauty does not exist.

Each of us has our own unique make-up, and our physical, mental and spiritual attributes combine in such a personal way that we may find some forms of beauty more accessible to us than others. But that doesn’t matter. Each and every manifestation of beauty is a potential gateway to the upper realms. Cultivating a sincere love of the beautiful, in whatever form suits us, leads us from the material to the spiritual. We rise from the dense vibrations of the Earth to the more refined vibrations of the higher realms, even unto heaven “where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt”. If we are able to fully absorb our minds in a thing of beauty, even for a little while, it will bring to us more vitality, more happiness, and above all, more peace of mind – all of which are available in greater abundance in the realms above the Earth. We will rise from the material forms of beauty destined to change and eventually pass away, to the undying beauty of the spirit.

If we sometimes find life difficult – and who has not from time to time – or if we are sad for some reason or another, recalling to our mind anything we find beautiful can bring consolation; it can lift and refresh our spirits, so that we feel able to carry on. The contemplation of beautiful things turns our minds away from the negative emotions of sadness and worry to the positive thoughts and higher feelings which are never far from the truly beautiful. It restores health and balance because we cannot separate true beauty from harmony and wholeness. True beauty pacifies our whole being and dispels all anxiety and discontent.

It is important from the outset however that we are not misled in our search for beauty. We must not become mere dreamers or decadent aesthetes who forget the material lessons and responsibilities of life. We must learn to retain our grip on material circumstances while bringing them into proper balance with our spiritual ideals. We must wisely use the material and spiritual resources at our disposal to assist our family, friends and community in any way we can, for only thus will we prove ourselves worthy of taking the next step along the way. Ignoring the realities and responsibilities of our life in the here and now is just as wrong as placing too much trust in gaining happiness from material things at the expense of our spiritual path to truth and beauty. The pitfalls are real, but balance is the key.

Because we all differ in our capacity to sense the inner spirit of beauty, many have been misled to believe that beauty exists only in the opinions of the beholder. But no, beauty exists and is what it is regardless of our ability or inability to perceive it.

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Some have argued that we must distinguish between beauty and utility; and that the beauty of a thing is only to be fully appreciated if enjoyed ‘as and for itself’, and not in relation to its usefulness. There is some truth in this, for we cannot truly blend our minds with the beauty of anything if we start from the standpoint of ‘what can it do for me’. On the other hand we need to be careful not to jump from here to less warranted conclusions. In noting the differences between beauty and utility we should not forget that there is beauty everywhere. There’s a harmony, wholeness and ‘rightness’ about the concept of utility which makes it a thing of beauty itself. And conversely it would also be unwise to ignore the sublime utility of beauty. Beauty is the perfection of a thing, and how can we deny usefulness to a thing perfected. Rather, the most beautiful is also the most useful; and anything that is truly useful must also be beautiful.

Beauty, it seems, really is everywhere. It certainly isn’t restricted to those areas of life most commonly associated with its appreciation. Speak to anyone who has a deeply-rooted fascination with any of the material sciences, for example, and before long adjectives like beautiful, wonderful, magnificent, exquisite, astounding etc. will crop up in their conversation. With good reason many students of the material sciences see in numbers a supreme and inspiring beauty. And a sense of the wonder, mystery and beauty of the universe has laid behind many a great scientific mind, leading those minds on to ground-breaking scientific discoveries. The eccentric mathematician Paul Erdos has said it as well as anyone:

“Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I KNOW numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.”

Much of modern art seems to be a rejection of the beautiful. Great Art however is always beautiful. It comes from above as a message to console, to guide, to lift up and inspire man. The true artist is one who is able to receive that message and give it expression through the beauty of their art, whatever form it might take. The higher the inspiration and the degree to which it is transmitted free from distortion, the greater the artist, and the more useful they are in the service of the light. The beauty of anything, including such artistic creations as sculpture, architecture, poetry, music, painting, dance, and so on, lies not in its outer appearance. Rather, the true beauty is in that which caused it to be: the inner spirit, the original inspiration which compelled the artist to create. And it is clear that at times the outer, worldly part of an artist can be unaware of the full meaning of the message received by their higher self.

Countless writers and artists have celebrated the beauty of Nature. Its champions often consider the conditions found in Nature better able to reflect ideal beauty than the man-made conditions in our towns and cities. Although even here there is still plenty of beauty to be found in the art and the remnants of Nature that persist there – sometimes in spite of man. In their skies at dawn and dusk for example, in their parks and gardens with their dewy lawns and shining flowers, in their galleries and museums, in their musical recitals of the works of inspired composers, or in the stained glass windows of their great cathedrals. In fact sometimes beauty can be all the more apparent when standing out against less beautiful surroundings.

However, it seems best of all to seek the spirit of beauty in Nature. The veil that separates life on Earth from the more beautiful and peaceful conditions in the nearby higher realms is easier to penetrate in Nature than it is amid the dense material vibrations of the modern city. When we strike out into the wild places, away from the hustle and the bustle, to the peaceful spots rarely visited by men, to the secret, silent places hidden from the workaday world, we put ourselves closer to the spirit of beauty which is the indwelling life of all Nature, of creation itself. When our travelling companions are the blue sky, the green meadow and the gentle hills, the swaying trees and the wild flowers that shine like jewels on the mossy bank, or the river of stars that flows through the night sky, we are in the best of company. These mystic companions of all lovers of beauty become as brothers and sisters, teachers and priests. Somehow they make us better men and women, wiser, kinder, more gentle, more tolerant and magnanimous. They draw out from us our better part, as though Proclus was right to assign a natural sympathy between all things material, mental and spiritual. We come to feel the oneness of peace, while half-heard harmonies on the scented breeze draw us further on into the deep woods. Every lover of Nature will recognise the power of its beauty that makes us like Emerson ‘glad to the brink of fear’:

“In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, always is a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign… Standing on the bare ground — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”(Essays)

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At such times it seems that the purpose of the One Life is to transmute everything into Beauty, and that this is the real driving force of evolution. A thing of beauty contains a power which under certain conditions can impress itself upon the malleable substance of the mind. A mind so impressed is changed, and changed for the better. This is a form of transmutation that we hear little about, but nevertheless is one which every seeker on the way should follow up to their benefit.

To summarise then, all forms of beauty encountered by us here are material reflections of yet more beautiful ideals or prototypes which exist in realms less dense than that of Earth. Their ultimate origin lies in the Divine realms far above anything that can be imagined by man. But the beauty of the here and now can lead us higher to a greater beauty, which in turn leads to still greater beauty, and so on forever without end. In this sense Kenealy is right to define beauty as:

“the perfection to which every existence should aspire”. (Book of God)

The further we travel on the path, and the closer we listen to the wise guides of the past, the clearer we come to realize that through test and trial, through success and failure, progress and setback, we slowly but surely improve ourselves. We gradually come to see that, however far into the distant future it might be, or however immanent, if we persist we will one day complete the work. Our pilgrimage on the Way reveals to us that Earth is but a stepping stone to higher things. The better part of us seeks, and eventually gains, a better life in more beautiful surroundings than any that can exist on Earth.

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