December 6, 2009

Beauty Redefined

"The irony of being here is that sometimes it is precisely what you want to avoid that brings you further towards creativity and compassion."

~ John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes

The past few years I've been challenged to redefine my idea of beauty. Beauty in everyday life. Beauty in my surroundings. Beauty in the face of another. I had this inherent belief that beauty is only what looks good, or makes you feel good and peaceful, or what pleases the mind, creating a sense that all is well and in its right place. If I experienced beauty, it meant I didn't want to look away from someone or something because IT DID NOT CAUSE ANY PAIN. And this can all be true of beauty. But lately I was first gently nudged, then shoved into understanding and seeing the other dimension of beauty and the unexpectedly generous supply of wisdom it holds. But it requires an often uncomfortable journey into pain--either physical, mental, or spiritual-- which I have too often avoided because I was afraid of "not being pleased."

A few things in particular stand out as I allowed beauty to be redefined in my heart. One was a relational disappointment in which I expected something from someone who had nothing to give me. I was forced to look at painful truths about myself, in what appeared to be rejection. In reality, it was redirection that was offered to me, which was beauty manifesting through the strength of another. I went through a "dark night of the soul" period, in which everything seemed ugly and empty, even myself. But after a while I started paying attention to what was going on inside of me. And I noticed that I was beginning to grow spiritually, in new and different ways. Beauty revealed itself to me in my emotional pain, as strange as it sounds. The pain I felt propelled me toward my Maker, seeking direction and comfort in Him.

Another way that beauty was redefined for me was during a recent bout with pain--physical pain. I'm a relatively strong and healthy person, with not a lot to complain about in the health department. But when I recently experienced an injury that left me in chronic pain for months (I'm still recovering!), it rocked my world. Needless to say I did not handle the pain well. Fear crept in, a few panic attacks were unleashed, and my mood plummeted. I wondered if I'd ever get better. But then my thoughts went to the numerous people who will truly live with chronic pain throughout their life, with no relief. I've often overlooked those who chronically suffer with pain because it was overwhelming to me. And it was easy to overlook those who hurt when I felt so wonderful. So this injury really opened my heart to have compassion for those suffering physical pain. This has been important to me since I practice Reiki (a form of energy work). I often help those with physical pain, as well as emotional issues. And I can only be helpful to my clients if I have an appropriate level of empathy. My empathy toward others definitely increased because of the pain I was in. The beauty of this lesson was only revealed through the pain I experienced. Not a fun process for me, but full of lessons and self-discovery.

I love the above John O'Donohue quote that reminds us that beauty is often found in the things we avoid. No one chooses to suffer. No one wants to walk into something that is seemingly "unbeautiful" and painful. But when we find ourselves in a situation that seems to be a struggle, we need to surrender to it and let it run its course in us and use the experience as a teacher. Then our surrounding darkness can be infused with a bit of light, which translates into beauty, and we can watch it transform us.

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