Today I want to talk about beauty and inspiration.
I’m not sure how I arrived at this place today, but I think it is due in part to the thoughts of this young lady. Splendid Elles, as she is known online,Â has inspired me to collect thoughts about religion and spirituality I’ve visited many times before, and include them here. I hope you will indulge me.
You see, I’m at an enviable point in my life now where I can appreciate beauty on many different levels, and not only can I appreciate it on different levels, but I seek it in its various forms.
When I look, I find it in the universal truths, the deep-rooted desires, the fears, and the joys of the human condition when they are expressed with eloquent language. There is a beauty in that, which is what art tries to convey. Thankfully it is quite often successful.
I find it in the vista of the land around me and in the darkness of night illuminated by the billions of galaxies with which we share the cosmos. I find it in natural formations and in architecture. I find it in music and I find it noise. I find it in things in motion and in inanimate objects.
I find it where it is dictated by the power of lust; in a fine car, a magnificent home, or even an expensive pair of shoes. And I see it the curves and softness of a woman, in the flowing tresses of her hair, in the rise and fall of her bosom, in the feel of her breath on my skin, and in the smell of her body lying next to mine.
I’ve come to a place where I recognize the different types of beauty in this life, and I marvel at the disciplines that examine their creation. I’m fascinated by the discoveries of biology, astronomy, physics, geology, archeology, chemistry, and medicine. I see the beauty they describe, but still have no control over it. I am at once bubbling with understanding and simmering with confusion. And I don’t know that it will ever be any different. I’m not sure I want it to be. I’m fairly certain I don’t.
But there are elements loose in the world that would devalue the understanding, that would deride the wonderful confusion, that would invent myths about reality, that would cheapen the beauty, reducing it to merely the fanciful stage of a meddling architect.
Early in my life I was ensconced with those elements by an accident of birth, and I very well could have remained among their number. But as I matured, I discovered that the beauty of everything around me could not be matched by the childish stories nor created by the impotent characters from the attendant myths. They are pathetically inadequate, and any man who would claim his particular wizard, fairy, or bogeyman as the source for all the beauty that can be experienced is very simply selling the universe short.
The true source is the natural process of the cosmos. There is no all-seeing magician borne of primal fear and ignorance that can amaze to the same extent. There is no godhead that can inspire, that can shake us to the very core, the way that reality can. That is a type of inspiration for which only nature has the talent.
It comes in the form of the ocean, as it licks at the shore, getting a taste, and then retreating for other parts of the world and other tastes. It’s woven into the majestic mountain ranges and the wonders of hills and canyons. It thrives in the flatlands and deserts, and of course flourishes in the vastness of space.
It’s inspiration that stems from the countless creatures on land and in the sea the world over, caught in the simple yet supremely difficult struggle to draw another breath, each bound by the mechanisms of chance and evolution, each part of an existence that is over in the geological blink of an eye. Yet the brevity of that existence is not something to be feared, but a marvel to be celebrated and anticipated with wonder as well.
It’s inspiration that is found in the faces of children and the elderly, and it surges through the idea that though we are many, at this time in our history, we are basically alone, and it is in our best interest to realize how rare and precious we really are.
I look at Machu Picchu, the great Pyramid of Giza, the city of New York, the tropical paradises on this globe. I read amazing works of literature and I see passion set down on canvas and in plaster. I walk through the history of this planet in a museum, smelling the funeral pyres of countless generations and hearing echoes of a warrior’s prayer before the battle against oppression begins. And when I see these things, I know that as amazing as they are, they come from us. We are the sole force that guides our destiny, and there is something very liberating in that. And something very inspiring.
But there is even more that is too grand for the pedestrian contrivances of mysticism. There is even more that the magical denizens of the ether cannot touch.
How does a man understand the inspiration that stems from love? How can a man explain the heights to which his spirit soars simply because a pretty girl smiles at him and says “I love you, too.”? How does a man explain the lengths to which he goes for the object of his desire? How does a man relate the power that may cause him to bear a thousand harsh trials to obtain a material object or even a loving companion? And how does a man reconcile the evil that he’s capable of because of the vile inspiration of hatred?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know the inspiration exists in the emotional soup that bubbles inside all of us, just as I know it’s present in the mundane and magnificence that’s right before our eyes.
And I know that it is neither a curse nor a gift granted by the wave of a hand from some unseen father figure.
Would you devalue any other work of art by discounting the intricacies, the tiny bits of inspiration that together make it a masterpiece?
I read Shakespeare and Twain and Dickens and Poe and Vonnegut and I see the precise choice of a single word, the placement of punctuation, and the unwritten dialog in the action. I feel the author’s angst and grief and love and hatred. And through the eyes of players, I see the good and the bad, the simple and the wondrous, that is present in us all.
The ignorant man simply sees a strange poem or a story about a boy on a raft.
I taste a thousand tears in a single note of a master’s composition, and I see the landscapes, the cities, the lovers, and hear the horrors of war in the vibrations of the strings and the reeds and the rumbling of the percussion.
The ignorant man simply hears a song that will put him to sleep.
I look at life, and I see us. I see us in our most fundamental incarnation and I see us evolving to something far more amazing. I see unique creatures who, when we are at our best, have the ability to look into the eyes of mortality to discover ways to put it at bay, and when we are at our worst, deserve endeavors no less profound.
And I see the world around me. I see the new flower reaching for sunlight, and the hatchling stretching its neck to eat, motivated by a primal urge, a strong and unavoidable instinct. I run a finger over the polished rocks below the surface of a moving stream. I smell the salt of the ocean as it foams and churns the sand. I root for a desperate leaf holding fast to its branch in the rain, and I’m quickened by the grunt of a beast on the plain, a prickle of danger sniffed in the grass. I take the journey of a snowflake as it lingers adrift on a dry mountain breeze. I puzzle over the shimmering air rising up from the desert floor, gasp at the solitude of a microscopic particle rocketing through the vastness of space, quaver at the paradox and reason of an endless universe, and weep at the terrible and amazing reality that I am a part of it all.
The ignorant man looks at life and sees a way station on the way to a fairy tale.
He has cheated himself. He has cheated himself, and it’s a damn shame.
Folks, I rarely presume to offer advice on how to live your lives, but I will on this day:
Please, do not cheat yourself.