Getting Engaged

The perception of beauty requires an extraordinary level of engagement with the world. As beauty is inherent in the world, we discover beauty when we are most in tune with the world, when we are in resonance with it. To resonate with beauty, not simply to recognize beauty from past experience, involves entering an altered state of consciousness. This altered state begins just below the state of waking consciousness, when beauty is experienced as an existential “now”, and extends in a continuum into the depths of transcendent meditation. In normal waking consciousness, we are in the midst of beauty but generally do not see it. Or, just at a slightly deeper level than waking consciousness, we may see it and get a momentary strong feeling from the experience, yet nothing else seems to happen to us. The experience did not change us. To truly experience beauty, a further step is necessary in which the experience is processed and integrated in such a way that it raises one’s state of consciousness so that one can act out of what one has experienced. For example, it is one thing to see the beauty of a mountain and quite another to become one with that mountain and act out of the beauty of its strength. It is one thing to see the beauty of a rose and quite another to become one with the rose and act out of the beauty of its delicacy. To experience the resonance of beauty is to be in harmony with the existential “now” of nature.


If the realization of the presence of beauty is very sudden and strong, the experience is aesthetic arrest, it takes our breath away and it dramatically takes us out of normal consciousness. Aesthetic arrest is a special case in which we momentarily and automatically drop into an altered state of consciousness. Usually, to appreciate beauty, the object seen, music heard or thought considered, has to be set off against everything else. Campbell (1990) said we have to draw a frame around it in order to concentrate on it and so that it can be seen as one thing. This act of concentration involves the creation of a depth state that distinguishes the experience of beauty from the mere recognition of it echoing from past experiences. Whether dealing with the beauty of physical form or the beauty of intellectual order, it is the relationship of part to part and of the parts to the whole that sets up the rhythms and structure of beauty. Derived from that relation of part to part, and of parts to the whole, rhythm is the instrument of art. To pick up on this rhythm requires a slight drop in mental activity from normal waking consciousness. As an experiment, try focusing on a beautiful picture. Notice the drop in mental activity as you focus on it and begin picking up on the level of resonance within the picture. As you focus on the picture, you screen out the background distractions of normal waking consciousness. You notice that the resonance of the object you focus on becomes stronger. You begin to see the rhythmical organization within it that Campbell (1990) described as “the magical thing”. You begin to see elements in the picture you never saw before. When it is well-rendered, it fascinates and holds you to its rhythmical arrangement. Drawing from the discussion of the previous chapter, we could say that you were timed into the work of art, that you were in resonance with it, that you and the picture were in some kind of oscillation pattern


In this state of resonance, the picture becomes part of your memory, and you become connected with the patterns of memories stored in the surface of the picture. Your resonance with the picture may lead you to resonate with the thoughts of others who have viewed it You may even wish to go to the place where the picture was created so that you can resonate in the same environment and lighting conditions in which it was created. If you do go there, the place may generate additional new resonances which will be stored along with the image that brought on all this excitement in the first place. Memory resonances overlay other memory resonances until reality becomes a complex, thick weave of patterns. You have seen that picture in its uniqueness and yet, beyond its specific attributes, you have connected it to ail things. Campbell (1990) said that when you see that thing in its uniqueness, you come to a very deep mystical realization and that is that there is no specific, unique meaning there at all. If you arrive at this level in the appreciation of beauty, you are in deep meditation, the acceptance that what is, is. In the absolute sense, all things are without meaning. Meanings are rational associations in the relationship brought about by thought systems and interactions with others. Campbell equated the full realization of the aesthetic impact with the sense of becoming one with the universe. He found this theme present, but overlooked, in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden. We find the theme also experienced by the Chinese Taoists from about the same period of history. The Japanese aesthetic appreciation of perishability also follows this theme. All three of these thematic variations are explored briefly in Chapter HI. For Campbell (1990), beauty reveals the infinite dimension. In works of literature, if pity is experienced as compassion, if terror gets us in touch with a positive experience of the mystical, we are once again taken to a deeper dimension. Works of art that create desire, lust or loathing have no place in Campbell’s schema. Products of cultural lensing, improper art leads us out of the Garden and into our fig leaves and our perception of the ugly.


Brother David s (1993) observations about the beauty of the junkyard and Bateson’s (1990) musings on the nature of a wrong note, discussed in Chapter in, shed light on the concept of ugliness. If a wrong note is not inherently wrong but seen as wrong because of the context it is in, if objects in the junkyard become more beautiful over time as they are freed of our projections, we begin to see ugliness as a form of communication. Like a plumb bob, ugliness shows us how far off our psychic center we are. What we call ugly becomes a prime indicator of levels of psychic stress, both within ourselves and our society; the two , of course, are inseparable. When Maslow (1993b) asked self-actualized people about the rewards of their work, their answers became the basis of his list of the values of being, values intrinsically valued in themselves. Maslow found that these people worked for truth, or justice, or beauty, or goodness, or for the sake of virtue, or to achieve oneness and so on. When he tried to define these values more fully, he found that they could be defined in terms of all the others. It is my sense that the experience of truth, or justice is a kind of beauty. I don’t feel truth, but encountering truth gives me the same sense of wonder and mystery that I get with beauty. When Huxley (1992) defined the greatest work of art as that which harmonizes within a single system the greatest number of significant factors in human living, he was onto the same path to the infinite dimension that Campbell (1990) had discovered.


For Huxley, the excitement of beauty is the discovery of the ultimate source of all form. Brother David (1993) sought the green fuse that drives the flower. Bateson (1990) was overwhelmed by the simplicity in the diversity of a world of interconnectedness. Hillman’s (1992) lifting of repression and denial of pleasure was designed to help us see and value once again the path to the infinite. The Chinese and Japanese offer us the vision of beauty before the expulsion from the Garden. The most powerful metaphor for the search for the infinite dimension that I have encountered in my search for beauty is tucked within the theories of resonance, oscillation and phenomenology discussed in the previous chapter. If we can see ourselves and our memories within the world and not hidden away in the individual brain, we have some hope of moving out of isolation into wholeness with the infinite dimension. The messages of wholeness are being transmitted by this infinite dimension through all of nature. We have only to receive the message. For most of us the message, if received, does not linger long, forced out as it is with the sensory overload of day-to-day life. The infinite dimension, glimpsed briefly, slips back into the unconscious. The moments when we see beauty can be transcendent experiences and, when processed and integrated, they raise our state of consciousness. But the loss of vision is often a more complicated process than loss due to the sensory overload of day-to-day life. If you have experienced the power of the transcendent expressed through the creative process, you will know that it can overwhelm you. The creative altered state is estatic and ultimately exhausting. It is as if we cannot look into the light for too long without self-destructing in some way. One learns of necessity to take the creative process in measured doses.

May 25, 2018


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