THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 2: BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother…

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BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother, “You have a beautiful baby boy/girl!” or so I’m told—I don’t remember too much about it. Or know, for that matter, what they say if your count comes up short. A decade or so later you want to kill yourself because your ears stick out. That I do remember! So what happened? Did I have bad work done?

No, socialization happened. The elite at my school were forming and I wasn’t yet a member; wasn’t invited to any of their exclusive get-togethers and would never be, I was certain, because of my curse: my big jug ears.

PYO

Appearance the First Criterion for Being Culled

People sometimes wistfully say, “Oh, to be young again.” Well they must have amnesia or at the very least, early dementia. For the world of youth, especially the preteen years, makes the Serengeti look civilized; and down at my own savanna in suburban Connecticut, the Central Grammar School, the taunting, branding, mental and even physical abuse, the fight to determine the alpha males and alpha females was full-on; and appearance, an obvious, perhaps the most obvious attribute, was the first criterion for being culled.

This is why the happiest day of my early life came about six months into my twelfth year—while riding bikes in the parking lot of the local shopping center and doing some harebrained things to impress the members of the A-team—when the leader of the pack decided that I was crazy enough to be invited to a party. Ears and all!

Boys are lucky. They can attain higher social status simply by acting insane. Girls are not so lucky. Beauty often outweighs all other methods whereby they are earmarked.

abstract-19079_1920

Face to Face with the One in a Million

I used to have an office in Manhattan one floor below the Click Modeling Agency, one of New York City’s most prestigious. So, very often, I would have to share an elevator with these creatures from another planet and if you had any illusions about how beautiful you were, you could throw them right down the shaft, for you were now face to face with the one in a million or even one in a hundred million that met all the world’s criteria for being beautiful. And it didn’t even seem to matter whether these Venuses paid any attention to what they wore or to their hair or makeup or whatever. In fact, an imperfection like Cindy Crawford’s mole or Lauren Hutton’s gap tooth or even Gia’s “heroin-chic/just woke up from a weeklong drug binge” appearance only seemed to help differentiate them from the few hundred or so others who inhabited their world.

On Thursday afternoons this same agency would hold an open house where any member of the public who felt they were an undiscovered supermodel could drop by for a free appraisal; get put up on the lift, so to speak. And the saddest thing on those days were the mothers with their darling daughters in tow who, believing that their little girl was the most beautiful on Earth, as by all rights they should, had gone to a lot of expense and trouble to make them up and dress them up to look like the queen of the prom. And while certainly attractive by most reckoning, with all their parts accounted for and affixed in all the proper places— good enough to play out of town, let us say—these girls were not six-plus feet tall, bone thin, with doe eyes, porcelain skin, and legs up to their chins.

Artistic Beauty

Later, when you saw these supplicants on their way back down, silent and crestfallen, you could easily think—if you didn’t know where they had been—that they had just received news of a terminal illness. It’s so crazy! All right, they were never going to be statuesque enough to walk the catwalk for the House of Dior or marry Donald Trump. But this begs the question: Who in their right mind would want to? (Marry The Donald, anyway.)

Where We Fit In

I once saw a photo of the Hunt brothers, a family of Texan oilmen, with their wives. All the women looked like mannequins and the latest models, too. (I’m sure the old ones had been traded in or warehoused.) While the brothers, to the man, looked like the kind of trolls one would find locking up fair maidens in impregnable towers or lurking around under bridges in children’s stories.
Now if we were alone in the world, all this wouldn’t matter; we wouldn’t care how comparatively beautiful we were (whom would we compare ourselves to?). But as soon as we form any kind of group we seem to immediately need to establish hierarchies, and especially to try to ascertain where we might fit in.

I ride a lot of subways in New York City on an almost daily basis. As soon as the door closes I look around at the little collective now being formed and try to determine if I’m in any kind of danger; if I’m going to have to fight for my life (flight being now temporarily off the table, at least until the next stop). Once I feel that I’m relatively safe I begin to attempt to establish my place in this new, albeit very temporary world-order. Who’s older, younger (sadly, fewer of the former these days), shorter, taller, richer, poorer. Even who’s fatter, skinnier (also sadly fewer of the former these days). And after I have sorted these things out, the oddest part of my survey now begins: who is the most beautiful? Being male (though I recognize that this “opposites attract” paradigm is no longer the hard-and-fast rule) I concern myself mostly with the females.

Framed in Hair

The Oddest Part of My Survey

I say “oddest” because the motivation for this does not seem to be to establish an emergency plan; a who-gets-to-eat-first pecking order should we suddenly find ourselves in a struggle to survive. And I’m not even sure if it is entirely based upon our next level of instincts, our reproductive urges, either, although this certainly does seem to try and worm itself in there. Just yesterday, in fact, a fellow seated some distance away from me was staring at someone standing near me and making what he believed was a most compelling advertisement of himself. Yes, he was attempting to force a kind of electronic crawl to march across his forehead that read: “I have the capacity to make such beautiful love to you, my darling” (à la Pepé Le Pew, the cartoon character/rapist). I then traced his sight line back to a very attractive, even model-caliber young girl standing near me who, while keeping her eyes fixed squarely ahead and purposefully at no one, still seemed aware that she was being singled out in this manner and was exhibiting both a kind of pleasure that she might garner such attention and a certain trepidation, as she could not really be sure whether this fellow might follow her out as she exited; might try and bother, even molest her.

Both myself and this very attractive one (but not the libidinous Don Juan, thank God) got off at the same stop and went in the same direction (not by design, mind you! I’m not a perv!), so I was able to observe from a few paces behind the attention-getting nature of beauty as it went about its normal business. The men (or most of them, anyway) were systematically rendered helpless, stunned, while the women—intuitively sensing a disturbance in the force—quickly averted their gaze. Why remind yourself of your inadequacies?

I am a mystical man by trade (though admittedly a normal man by default), so I am able to dispassionately observe things as they ebb and flow within myself and to some extent even marshal some semblance of self-control over certain of my impulses, and when I do this in a case like this, and drill down to the level where I might objectively observe the thing called “beauty,” what I note is something miraculous: earthly beings who have evolved heavenly attributes.

There is a famous poem by William Blake, “The Tyger,” in which he writes: “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” If we edit out the word fearful (forgive me, Bill), I think we can begin our contemplation of beauty in earnest.

Beautiful Smile

Something Beautiful Hidden Deep Within

For while the beautiful woman, or even man (although again, I’m not an expert in that field), did not create themselves, there is something beautiful hidden deep within the universe that is expressing more and more of its superlative qualities through its creations and especially its latest effort, the human being. Just consider hair. Why does it frame the human face so? (It certainly does not do this in any of our animal cohabitants, from whom we only recently parted ways.) In the Asian woman, for example, why is it often so extraordinarily silken, so amazingly black and flowing?

Yes, if we can manage to remove ourselves from our instinctual responses and especially our default mode of relentless competition, beauty then becomes a door to another world. But when we approach beauty in our everyday way, rather than simply accepting it or even marveling at it, we covet its ability to provide higher social status and/or pursue it as emblematic thereof, the way the wealthy man (okay, like “The Donald” or even the regular guy, I suppose), is convinced that to possess something that others want is proof of his superiority (think: trophy wife). This is why—given humanity’s current stage of development—beauty is on a strange and sometimes even precarious path, especially for its possessor.

As I read somewhere years ago but never forgot: “Only beautiful birds are imprisoned, crows are never caged.”

Featured pic Spiral Love Rose by Nicolas Raymond, License

Look for the next topic, Consciousness, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 1: ART

Please enjoy this first weekly installment from The ABCs of Enlightment by Jeffery Baker….

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ART

Human beings have been creating art for 50,000 to 75,000 years, if various regional claims can be settled; the Europeans with their beautiful cave drawings at Lascaux, France, being especially dismissive of the rough petroglyphs of the Africans and Australian Aboriginals, as you might expect. They have a good shot at the record for music, however, with a bear thighbone flute recently discovered in a Slovenian cave and dated to 50,000 BC.

Anthropologists call primitive art “the dawn of superfluous beauty” and so by extension we could certainly call this earliest music “the dawn of superfluous noise,” as we have concrete proof that this is what it has become today. Bothersome Muzak now plays everywhere, even in parking lots.

Not An Exclusively Human Endeavor

Until the 1960s when an English chimp (or one living in England, anyway) named Congo (1954–1964) created more than four hundred paintings, art was considered an exclusively human endeavor. Recently, one of Congo’s untitled canvases set an auction record for nonhuman art at $25,000 (posthumously, of course). And while there are elephants throughout Asia that paint and even one named Nellie in Los Angeles whose works include “Serengeti Passion” and “Kenyan Skies”—yes, not just some loud trumpeting sound—what set Congo apart was his passion.

For while the pachyderms don’t seem to care if they pick up a paintbrush or a mahogany log, Congo, if not allowed to paint, would go berserk; and if his canvas was removed before he felt it was finished, would go completely bananas. Yes, he seemed an artist in every sense—his hygiene was already quite characteristically poor.

The idea that a chimp’s creative output could be considered art upset many religious scholars; for they held that true art was a function of the soul expressing a divine urge and since only humans, in their opinion, had souls, Congo the chimp could not be expressing a divine urge and thereby creating art.

Paintball Art

by Lori Ho – license

According to Mysticism

Mysticism has no such problem with Congo or with the divinity of any of our other simian brothers and sisters. In fact, if mysticism has a problem, it’s trying to figure out what doesn’t have a soul: A dog? A bee? A house? A tree? And what doesn’t embody a divine urge, since according to mysticism the entire creation is the direct result of The Divine Urge which is nothing more than the Creator’s own inspiration to self-expression, the Universe and all its inhabitants being, in essence, God’s art.

So for mysticism the degree to which an organism can create art, can express a divine urge, is not a function of whether or not it has a soul, since most everything has one, but the degree to which that particular soul can express itself through that organism. The higher, more evolved organisms, such as ourselves, having the capacity to be more conscious of their inner realities, therefore becoming better candidates for soulful, artistic, self-expression. This is also why we are not completely surprised when a chimpanzee, our species’ closest relation (we share 99 percent of the same DNA), albeit an exceptionally “gifted” one named Congo, not only wants to paint but is as obsessed as was van Gogh.

Art From the Soul

Recently I was invited to a friend’s art exhibit, the final part of his master of fine arts degree from a famous New York City art college. He specializes in “installations”—not paintings or sculpture, per se, although it could include those—but created environments. The show was held in a loft in Greenwich Village that had been hastily cleaned out and included many other installations as well. My biggest problem that day was trying to figure out what were the works of art and what was intended for the dumpster, the only clue being the little signs with titles and attributions next to each exhibit, making those placards found near the piles of leftover construction materials, the janitor’s closets, or especially the restrooms, particularly daunting.

I bring this up not to be smug but to say that even if we side with the religious scholars and say that only humans have souls and thereby can create art, it is still a stretch to say that whatever is expressed by us comes directly from our souls. Though recognizing what does is no simple matter.

Michelangelo

via Michelangelo via Wikipedia

Openness; That Artistic Genius

Michelangelo, arguably the finest sculptor ever, said that creating art for him was simply a matter of chipping away all that wasn’t part of his statues; Mozart, considered by many the greatest composer, just a matter of transcribing the music that he already heard fully formed inside his head. The power, beauty, and fecundity of their output (Mozart lived only thirty-five years and had nearly seven hundred symphonic, choral, chamber, and operatic masterworks) tells us that creativity and especially creative abundance is not cunning but openness; that artistic genius, in the artists’ own words, is not contrivance but revelation; is, what is called in New Age parlance, “channeling.” And this is exactly what we would expect if we became aware of the infinite in us; if we became conscious of our soul. There is no better example of this than my own mentor, Sri Chinmoy, who created more than two hundred thousand paintings, fifteen million drawings, and composed more than twenty thousand songs.

Art of Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy with one of his Jharna-Kalas.

When Mozart was twelve and visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome he heard Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere—a complicated work for nine-part choir, which distribution or publication of was punishable by excommunication. That night, back in his hotel room, the young prodigy wrote the entire thing down from memory, perfectly, note for note. (At that age I was sitting with a record player and a guitar trying to figure out the chords for Beatles songs and getting them mostly wrong.) When Michelangelo was fourteen he was already hard at work on commissions from Italy’s greatest patrons, the Medicis.

Soulful, Profound and Prolific Self-Expression

So, is soulful, profound and prolific self-expression only for these few and a handful of other super-gifted persons throughout human history? The answer is no. (Does life distribute talent fairly? I’d rather not say.) Could any of the rest of us ever sculpt the Pieta or pen Eine Kleine Nachtmusik? The answer is also probably no, since it was these individuals’ unique combination of extraordinary abilities that could have done that. Could a person of “normal” abilities, such as the one who created a sculpture at my friend’s exhibit with a screw gun and a bunch of leftover pieces of two-by-fours—which looked for all the world like late the night before she had cobbled together whatever hadn’t yet been thrown out—be expressing her soul and creating art in this mystical sense? The answer, believe it or not, is possibly. How could one tell? It is a matter of “consciousness,” a spiritual term that has its own essay below (coming week 3!) but can be presently defined as “what one is conscious of.”

Fractal

Look at Art Inwardly Not Outwardly

If I were fully aware of my soul, whatever I touched would be imbued with soulfulness and therefore I would be creating art in this mystical sense. Let’s look at it another way.

Jesus was the son of Joseph, a carpenter. And while we don’t actually know if he ever took up the trade, I think we can safely assume, given that occupations in those days remained almost exclusively with their respective families, that he might have tried his hand at it once or twice, especially during his “Lost Years.” Now for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that he was the worst carpenter ever, producing things that did not even remotely qualify as furniture or whatever else it was that the family normally made (let’s hope they didn’t make crosses!). Would it matter? Wouldn’t anything from his hand, because of the inner reality, the consciousness, of its creator, be considered by millions the most precious thing ever created and thereby more treasured than any art by anyone else, including Michelangelo or even Mozart?

Of course, you could make the argument that we are no longer talking about art at all but about relics (someone once said that you could build an arc with all the “authentic” pieces of the cross found in Christian churches), but I think a strong case can be made that this is what modern art is already asking us to do: to look at art inwardly not outwardly; at its energy, its resonance. At the inner state of the artist himself as opposed to the outer appearance of the work itself; at its consciousness.

Humans are “Clever Monkeys”

Humans are “clever monkeys”—as a friend of mine is fond of saying—and can create things for any reason they want: to soothe or to shock; to comfort or to confront; to be as beautiful as possible or as horrific; to defy convention in an attempt to prove that art has no meaning at all, is merely superfluous, as was previously stated, though this last task is not so easily accomplished.

For I think you will find that most people are eager to hear or see or even read something that will speak to them on some deeper level; will reconnect them with their souls, the living portion of God within. And even if we beat them over the head, telling them not to expect anything beautiful, powerful, illumining, epiphanic, revelatory, or in any way meaningful, dilettantes and philistines that they are, they just can’t help themselves; can’t stop from hoping.

 

Look for the next topic, Beauty, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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