We live in a culture that doesn’t understand beauty, and indeed is afraid of beauty. We confuse money with beauty, which has caused immense damage to the western soul, and when the soul is damaged, we cause damage to our lives and to the world. Institutional religion often pushes beauty aside to replace it with obedience. We feel how this poisons us, but often cannot articulate it for years, decades. Beauty, by its nature, refuses to be tamed by humans. Beauty comes not to obey our small ways, but to shatter the smallness that has been imprinted on us in so many ways.
Beauty is a spiritual power, a breath of the Holy, and it does not arise from the senses but comes from beyond the senses. So wealth, status and sexiness, as powerful as they are, are really are not forms of beauty – they are expressions of the culture.
Four things of womanly beauty in this world: the deep lines on a woman’s face, Spirit’s brushstrokes on the earth, the sigh of pleasure filled with grieving well met, a body softened and expanded by bringing forth life.
Four things of manly beauty in this world: Scars marking a defeat, tears after a battle has been won, the courage to be slain by love, dancing with a limp.
Are any of these truly honored by our culture?
An ancient Irish story tells us that, at the center of the Otherworld (the world of spiritual power) is a well, out of which flows five streams in five directions. The guardian of the well says each of us, by fact of being alive, drinks from the five streams (the senses), but no one may have wisdom unless they drink from the well itself – the source. The “people of many arts” drink from both the well and the five streams.
Who are the people of many arts? They are the teachers, healers, poets, leaders - the ones whose smallness has been cracked open, or torn open, by the power of beauty, a spiritual force from beyond the senses, and the source of the senses. The people of many arts are also known as the Aes Dana: the people of the earth goddess whose veins are the rivers and whose cloak is the green of summer and whose voice is each living creature singing its own “Oran Croi (pronounced “Oran Cree”), the small song of the heart that is one note in the great song of creation). These are the people – like you who have read this far- who, as poet Joy Harjo says, “are born with nerve endings longer than our bodies”
Beauty is the vibration not from this world, but from the world of spirit, perhaps delivered through the senses, but also delivered in non-sensical ways. “That’s nonsense!” may be an affirmation of the presence of the direct breath of the divine. When we talk about shamanism’s job of resuscitating our beauty, we are talking about repairing the rupture between the body and the spirit, remembering the sameness in the salt water inside the small container of our human body and the salt water in the infinite ocean of creation. When we resuscitate beauty, we re-weave sense and sanctus, eros and hieros; we bend low and sip from the five streams, and also the well itself.
Underneath everything I teach (see the sidebar) and inside my healing work, is this foundational action: the resuscitation of beauty. This weekend’s rattle making workshop is not about making rattles- it is about marrying Sense and Spirit, creating a doorway through which they may meet. The October retreat up north is about the meeting “the Dark Goddess” but it’s really only about resuscitating beauty. On and on the work goes.
I leave you with Joy Harjo’s wonderful "Eagle Poem."
BY JOY HARJO
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
Joy Harjo, “Eagle Poem” from In Mad Love and War. Copyright © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press,