There is so much beauty.
Unfathomable beauty everywhere I care to look.
When I slow down enough to actually take it in; when the endless preoccupations of my humanness have the space to recede even for a moment, and I can enter the stillness of my heart, the unfathomable beauty of this world becomes available.
And then there is the wonder that I have eyes to see, and a body to receive the effect of that seeing.
Right now, as I sit quietly breathing in the sight of sunlight on the bright, white, snow-covered ground, and watch the movement of the holly branches gently responding to the breeze and how the light bounces off their shiny leaves; and the intricate patterns of the bare branches of the ash tree against the pale blue sky and tiny rainbows appearing and disappearing in the stream of water pouring off the roof as the snow melts… my body is suffused with wonder. My breathing deepens and a sense of nourishment fills my body. Nourished by beauty; and, even more importantly, nourished by the capacity to be here for it, to receive it, to allow it in.
I remember becoming aware, many years ago, that it was hard to really let the beauty of existence in.
In fact I became acutely aware of all the ways I turned away from it, perversely preferring to focus on what was difficult or more complex than the simplicity of the beauty of the world. I remember thinking, ‘this is too much for me’.
What was too much was not the beauty itself, but the painful realization that I was unable to enjoy it. The starkness of my own closure highlighted by the quiet offerings of the world around me. Displays of extraordinary design in every flower, tree, cloud formation, bird; in every natural fragrance, in the flow of river, of raindrops, and the fluttering of leaves tumbling in autumn; to let this all in in any moment is utterly mind-blowing. And to feel the tight holding of a heart too arrogant, too afraid, too self involved, too stressed, to bow down to creation – that was what was too much.
There was a spell of beautiful weather in the late summer of 1985. I was in Norfolk, walking with my sister who was severely depressed; I remember commenting on how beautiful it was, and her replying, ‘it just makes it harder’. I was shocked by the starkness of what she spoke, and I got it. When we are locked in our own misery, beauty, openness and even love itself, can appear like an insult; because it is there showing itself to us, and we cannot have it – like a banquet put before a starving creature but out of reach. And if I suspect that the key to letting it in, is in my own hands but I am unable, or unwilling to turn it, that is doubly unbearable.
I remember when my second daughter Amy was born. It was an extraordinarily perfect water birth and she emerged out of me so gently, guided by my own hands as I delivered her little body into a watery world. She was born without the waters having broken, the ‘coul’ was intact. With one contraction, half her body appeared. Her little perfect face, her shoulders and arms, her torso. Then her right hand was released from my body and her arm gently floated free making a wondrous arc from my vagina, spreading out until it was stretched above her head. That movement tore open the delicate sac which was still holding her in amniotic fluid and as the temperature and quality of the water she was being born into changed, she opened her beautiful big eyes under water and seemed to take in the world.
I knew at the time that I was experiencing something which was beautiful beyond words. And yet what was shocking to me was that I also knew that I couldn’t actually feel it. I felt distant, like I was watching a film about someone else which perhaps should have touched me, but didn’t. At the time I was vaguely aware of feeling bad about feeling so distant from what was happening. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually in a state of shock brought about by subliminal memories of her sisters’ birth which was very traumatic for me. I couldn’t feel anything.
That whole experience, the subsequent hemorrhage and the seemingly miraculous healing which happened when it became clear that I was simply reliving an old trauma, was a strong awakening moment for me. I realized in that moment that how I was perceiving life and my experience – consciously or unconsciously – was having a devastating effect on my body. An effect so powerful that it could kill me. And waking up to the realization that I had agency in the situation, blew my mind.
The ambulance was on its way to rush me and Amy to hospital. I asked Angus (Amy’s father) to call a new friend who was psychic (and also happened to be a midwife which made me trust her guidance way more than I otherwise might have done). The ambulance was on it’s way. The message which came back from her was this – “Fanny experiences birth like death. Tell her it is purely emotional, and tell her firmly to stop bleeding NOW”.
I remember lying on the sofa looking out of the window and seeing the grey clouds. I remember having lost the will to live. I could hear Amy screaming and saw her in her grandmothers’ arms, but I wasn’t interested. When that message came through, something woke up in me. It was a strong experience. I saw pink light streaming through the clouds, I came out of a bubble and suddenly I wanted my baby. I stopped bleeding there and then. My blood pressure normalized (I can’t remember whether it was high or low but – along with all the other symptoms – it had the midwife worried), my temperature came down, and the contractions to expel the placenta started up again. When the ambulance arrived, my midwife was courageous enough to send them away again, and I was able to begin to fall in love with this precious new being. Suddenly I wasn’t just seeing beauty but I was touched by it, I could let it in, I was part of it.
When there is some kind of traumatic memory operating unconsciously it can be hard to appreciate beauty even if I objectively recognize it. Or if I am depressed or shut down, I might miss it. And then sometimes, by grace, beauty will come and find me, and reach into my heart through the fog of that closure, and open me up again.
This world is so unreasonably beautiful when I have the eyes to see it and a heart open enough to feel it. Wherever I turn in nature, there is beauty. Every living thing has beauty when I really take it in, even things I don’t think do it for me like slugs, earthworms, spiders or people I perceive as ugly. But if I look a bit deeper, or look through the eyes of love, something very magical happens.
Sometimes I can look at someone I care for and see them through a critical eye which sees bags under eyes, triple chins, wrinkles and jaded expressions. I can think, ‘you’re not looking so good’. And if I catch myself doing that, it is possible to shift where I am looking from, and see with the eyes of my heart, and suddenly what appeared to be ugly is transformed. Beauty is revealed. I didn’t used to be able to do this. It requires dropping all my ideas about what is or isn’t beautiful and just seeing what is here. And allowing myself to be in wonder.
It seems to me that we are SUPPOSED to be opened by life. Life is designed to blow us away by its sheer beauty. It keeps calling us back to the garden which it naturally is, and keeps saying, “Come! Come home! Drink me in! Open up! Be blown away in love!”. It is offering itself to us in a constant reminder of what is precious in the midst of all the inevitable difficulties which being human entails.