Beauty, Presence and Aliveness
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
"So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life." ~ John O'Donohue
Greetings from Dublin, where I am acclimating back to urban life after spending a week soaking up the vastness of space, quiet, and beauty on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. The island landscape is wild and beautiful, with dramatic sea cliffs, craggy coastline, rolling highland, bog, and native woodland. There are only 3 paved roads on the island, about 145 residents, and lots and lots of sheep. It felt like I was on the edge of the world in some ancient time there, where things move slower and one has time for things. It was the perfect place to slow down, unwind, rest and reflect.
I walked miles and miles every day on the 3 paved roads which eventually all led to the sea. Most of the time, I was the only one on the road, with the occasional sheep that strayed from the hills outnumbering a rare car. A few times, I ventured out on the mossy paths, sometimes getting lost, which was both wonderful and terrifying for the urbanite like me. I eventually found my way back on the paved road, and it was a sheer delight when I discovered a hidden waterfall, a cove, or a swimming hole.
The 3 hours of yoga practice in the morning quietly mirrored the slow pace of the island. A small group of us spent the entire 3 hours on the first day lying on our back, sides, and belly, then sitting and standing upright, patiently waiting, allowing, undoing, and grounding. On the second day, it took us the entire 3 hours to do just one round of the Sun Salutation. That was pretty much the pace of the week, exploring 2 or 3 postures at most during each 3 hour session. When I yielded to this way of being in the practice, I was able to catch the subtle releases and nuanced shifts that can take place only when we allow time.
The urban life of Dublin, though much gentler than that of NYC, contrasts sharply with my week on the island. The landscape and the soundscape of the island were infinitely more spacious and beautiful. The beauty of the island was the kind that makes you feel more alive and open to so much possibility. This is what the late, great Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue observed - that a defining quality of beauty, as distinguished from glamour, is that you feel more alive in its presence. I know that sustaining this recognition of aliveness by creating my own inner landscapes of beauty and connecting to the elemental even in urban living is absolutely necessary to keep me vital and sane when I go back to NYC.
John O'Donohue also observed the connection between beauty and the threshold moments of life - that if we can, as Blaise Pascal advises, "carry something beautiful in our heart," we have a "little contour that we can glimpse sideways" in difficult times to "cross a new threshold worthily... to new grounds where we just don't repeat what we've been through in the last place we were." Beauty in this sense seems a threshold into becoming. He offers us this:
“For Equilibrium, a Blessing: Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore, May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul. As the wind loves to call things to dance, May your gravity be lightened by grace. Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth, May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect. As water takes whatever shape it is in, So free may you be about who you become. As silence smiles on the other side of what's said, May your sense of irony bring perspective. As time remains free of all that it frames, May your mind stay clear of all it names. May your prayer of listening deepen enough to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”
~ John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
When I return to NYC towards end of September, I will begin by teaching one public class at the World Yoga Center on Monday mornings. My intention is to offer more series-based courses to help dedicated yoga students mature into a skillful, self-directed and responsive practitioner. More to come on this....
In beauty, presence and aliveness.... I wish this for you and me!