Widening the View: Beauty and Inspiration

Standing quietly in the kitchen this morning, I appreciated the unusual silence of the neighborhood. There seems to be a respite in the construction work on the house below us, and the habitually barking dogs were oddly silent. Wonderful. A slight breeze danced through the open windows of the house, carrying the sublimely floral fragrance of a tuberose lei—a Hawaiian tradition and a birthday gift for my beloved, now draped around the tabletop statue of Quan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. Our Whippets were curled up together for the first of several morning naps on the sofa, and the moment seemed decidedly peaceful.

Savoring the tranquility, I massaged coarse sea salt into the gently damp skin and innards of the plump, organic chicken to be roasted this evening for supper. As I sprinkled Maldon from my fingertips like dry white snowflakes, I found myself musing, what are the ways that we remember the sacred in everyday life? How do we slip free from our small, confining stories and celebrate the Larger Story unfolding around us?

If you have read my posts or listened to my podcasts, you know that I am a priest of polysensory awareness—that when we open through our senses, we cultivate a deeper connection with soul. When we begin to pay attention on a sensory level, we make an important shift: from the mental and disembodied, to the somatic, present moment… with its softly gliding moods of light, fleeting scents, tempting tastes, and cascades of sensation in the bodymind. Through our senses we inhabit the moment differently. Fully.

When we are receptive and welcoming of beauty, our heart’s field expands also.

I have long held that beauty inspires and nourishes us on an intrinsic level, and as Soul peoniesArtists we must consciously create beauty in our environment. More than merely giving attention to our physical surroundings, we can create beauty in our actions towards others, as well—striving to embody kindness, generosity, compassion and forgiveness. True beauty is multifaceted and more than surface deep; it emanates from within and triggers a sense of harmony in the soul. Creating beauty is a moral high road, a conscious choice to rise above the mundane, dreary and habitual.

When our lives are devoid of beauty, our very spirit is degraded.

Unfurling our senses, we discover that beauty abounds—sometimes in the most surprising places, like an overgrown backyard or deteriorating urban zone. Most of us, however, are tuned out and not paying attention. Our lives are busy, demanding and chaotic, or mired in trenches of soul-numbing routine. We are rushing along, trying to get things done or simply keep our head above water and survive. Modern life is one of near constant noise and man-made distraction, most of which we unconsciously tune out to keep from being overwhelmed—a habit that closes down our other senses, as well. Heart, too.

Almost nothing in mainstream culture nurtures the soul or reminds us of our largest, most authentic nature—who we really are, or aspire to be. Unless we are monks, pilgrims in an ashram, or reclusive hermits living on a mountain, few of us have the opportunity to live in an environment that fosters a daily, direct connection with the Larger Story. We get swept up in the details, distractions, and drama. Poor health or injury knocks us sideways and pulls us down. And there will always be more work calling us with incessant demands on our precious time.

I placed the salted chicken in its roasting tin into the refrigerator to rest for the day, then walked down the tile stairs to our bedroom where my little desk sits next to the window. The long, cranberry silk curtains are tied back to welcome the tropical morning drenched in light. Striking a match, I lit a stick of piñon incense to fill the room with resinous smoke, part of my ritual when I sit down to write, edit, or compose a blog. Still, I held this question in mind, what draws us out of our small, familiar, daily stories into something infinitely larger and more creative?

When we find ourselves in less than optimal situations or challenging environments, where it may take some time before we can make an appropriate change, what calls us back to ourselves—to our best selves? What helps us to remember the Larger Story?

I know from my own experience that we must tend to body and soul, lest either one wither. Such a practice includes appropriate diet, exercise, and creative activity. I also believe that because we are human—because we forget—we all need something outside of ourselves that invites us to remember and celebrate the Larger Story. It lures us from our containment and patterned restrictions. We require an external resource, something that helps to anchor us in an authentic sense of self and hold us upright. Like peonies in the garden, we often need a stake to be secured to, lest we fall over from our own weight as we bloom, or simply to lend support through the inevitable wind, rain, and hard times in life.

Perhaps our resource is a spiritual practice, or a ‘soul project’ (click to read an earlier post, ‘Soul Projects’). It might be nature as found in the garden, a nearby park, a whispering wood or a rocky shoreline. It may be that we discover our external support in an inspirational book, or in well-tended and deeply inhabited solitude. Similarly, we may remember the Larger Story when greeting the dawn or standing barefoot on the earth for extended periods. Anything creative—music, art, cooking, gardening, etc—can transport us to something larger, as can personal ritual, the sort that invokes mindfulness and a certain magic.

Conscious friends are a priceless gift; the sort who, simply being in their company or speaking to them on the phone, gently invite us to remember who we really are. Despite the ongoing work on ourselves, like weeds in a garden those thorny, prickly, stinging, even poisonous parts of ourselves reemerge in time, a humbling reminder of our human nature.

Are any of us so robust in our desire for self-actualizing growth as even a humble weed? What—or who—helps us to remember, to open and expand, to risk blossoming?

In one of my Riverspeak podcasts, I shared the story of an eighty-something year old artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, still working and creating abundantly. In an interview (which is where I learned of her story), she was asked about the secret of her vibrant longevity. Her reply was that each day, she sought out something that inspired her. At least one thing, every day. Sometimes it was as simple as a perfect, blood red rose at the peak of its fragrant bloom in a neighbor’s flower garden; other times it might be people she encountered, or the stories of others. But every day, she consciously sought inspiration.

Amen, sister. Blessed be.

We each need to step outside the four walls, floor, and roof that contain us. Seek out inspiration. Descend fully into the bodysoul and breath, opening our senses wide. Wake up from the trance.

If we aren’t paying attention, if our senses aren’t unlocked and ajar, then the subtle messengers of grace and beauty—the wild agents of Mystery and seduction, I call them—may fail to register in our consciousness. The golden sunflower, a zooming hummingbird, the scent of rain and freshly washed earth, the warm touch of our lover’s hand, the juicy nectar of a tree-ripened peach or mango—we may have become so accustomed and habituated to their regular presence that we no longer really register or appreciate them. The familiar fades to invisible.

Outside my window, the serrated fans of the palm trees sway gently in the slight breeze with a clackity sound, while little, crested, coal-colored birds dance noisily among the branches of the lone avocado tree. The bright, humid day awaits what I will bring to it, and this evening my beloved and I will feast with open senses on a fine, fresh meal, together celebrating another day of the journey.

To what will we offer the gift of attention? What will you pause to savor? Thirst for beauty, hunger for inspiration. Follow your longing, for it is a guide to the soul and a prayer to the Holy.

Seeking support and inspiration each day helps us to widen the lens of our life, refocusing upon the word that is everywhere but unwritten, the sound enfolded within every breath but unspoken: