Exploring Beauty as a Doorway to Love 

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Exploring Beauty as a Doorway to Love 

By Jessica Soares

Is Loving Beauty Superficial?

Vain. Conceited. Shallow. 

All words that have been wielded as weapons against a demonstrated love and care for beauty. So prevalent are the judgments that can be held towards appreciating beauty, particularly one’s own, that we have an entire myth around it. 

It is said that Narcissus, son of Cessiphus and Liriope, was unequivocally beautiful. Man, woman, beast… if they could agree on nothing else, they agreed on the beauty of the being by the name of Narcissus. He rejected all until, one day, he came face-to-face with his own reflection staring back at him in a river. And from that moment on? He was absorbed, taken, besotted only by the image he saw staring back at him. So captivated by his beauty, not recognizing it was his own, he stayed at the river’s edge, yearning and staring until he was burned up by his internal passions and eventually melted into a gold and white flower. 

Since the blooming of that gold and white flower, Narcissus has been vilified as self-absorbed and vain. Hundreds of years later we even have an entry in the DSM-5 named after him, narcissism. Not a label one generally owns and shouts from the rooftops. 

But what are myths, if not archetypal templates that invite us into our own creative reimagining? Stories told across eons that give us full permission to extract the meaning that best serves us. 

The message is clear. It is crude and even disordered to admire, celebrate, and be captivated by one’s own beauty. It will cause pain, isolation, and perhaps even death. 

But what if we reimagine? If we reframe this lens? What if this story emerged from the universal belief that beauty is our birthright? That, in fact, beauty is what we are and that valuing beauty is inevitable, not deplorable. 

Since he was a babe, all could see the beauty Narcissus carried. To look upon him and see his light. Narcissus himself remained oblivious to this reality. Until one day, he came upon an image on the surface of a river that took his breath away. An image of pure beauty that he could not draw himself away from. A recognition. What Narcissus didn’t realize is that he was the holder of this beauty. Every time he looked away or pulled away, he lost sight of the magnificence he was beholding. And so he stayed. He stayed and looked deeply into the eyes of this creature of beauty until he no longer could. Until he gave his last breath, offering himself up completely to this image of light. Unbeknownst to him, he then became a gold and white flower. A sight that would serve as a reminder of beauty for all those who passed. In devoting himself to beauty, he became immortalized as an emblem of beauty. 

Beauty as a Gateway

Beauty is what we are. Beauty is what life is. There is beauty in every sunset, in every flower—gold and white or pink and yellow. There is beauty in the light refracting off the surface of a river. There is also beauty in the soil. In wrinkle lines. In the mangled and the “ugly.” When sought, when recognized, we can see that beauty is all around us. This beauty, this perfection that we are, is forgotten by most. 

In many ways, the spiritual journey is an awakening to the recognition of this eternal and immortal beauty. Some come to this remembrance through seeing the vast amounts of beauty around them, through seeing the beauty in their beloved, in nature, in the natural unfolding of life. Eventually, hopefully, they come to know that beauty can be found within themselves, nestled in the truth of their own hearts. 

And yet, there are many paths to the top of the mountain. Not all will taste this same delight. Some, perhaps including Narcissus himself, come to know this beauty through loving and witnessing themselves. By going on journeys to excavate the truth of who they are and ultimately falling in love with what they see and find. Narcissus was blind to beauty before seeing his own reflected back to him. Should he be demonized forever and used as an example of why loving oneself and appreciating one’s beauty is wrong and immoral? Or can we view this story through a lens of curiosity and compassion? In truth, Narcissus did not even realize that what he was gazing upon was his reflection. He did not realize that he was the beauty that he was so in love with, that he could not take himself away from for even just one moment. 

Narcissus: Vain or Tragic?

Perhaps the Narcissus myth is, in fact, a tragedy—how devastating that he could not realize that the beauty he saw was the beauty he was. Perhaps it can serve as a cautionary tale—if one doesn’t recognize that they are the beauty they are seeing, they may erroneously believe they must give their life to that one singular image of beauty they are witnessing. However, when one awakens to the truth that the beauty they see is an emanation of what lies within, an emanation that exists at the source of all manifest reality, they become free. Free to appreciate their own beauty. Free to walk away from the river and see that that beauty is everywhere. Free to love, celebrate, and cherish beauty. Because it is what we are. The part that sees beauty is the beautiful within us. The eternally beautiful. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us, “What one is looking for is what is looking.” We can also take this to imply that, “The one that is seeing, is the one that is seen.” One step further: “The one that is seeing beauty, is the one that is beauty.” 

Beauty as Prayer

Beauty, like many things, is an invitation. An invitation to recognize and honor our innate divinity. Why, then, should it not be valued and celebrated? Or, at the very least, not shamed and judged. Rather than relating to beauty as an objective set of standards that one either meets or doesn’t, what becomes available when we relate to beauty as simply an expression and recognition of divinity, the shining through of perfection that can be found in any moment, in any creation, in any being? Paramahansa Yogananda reminds us, “Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” 

And why, then, should an appreciation of these things be deemed any more or less frivolous than an appreciation of anything else? Fashion, interior design, visual arts, landscape maintenance… each in their own way an appreciation of beauty. Beauty is the majesty and truth of Reality, made visible. Admiring a windowsill orchid or the way the waves crash on the shore… acknowledging and being taken by the radiance emanating from the smile of a newborn baby. Even a street fashion photographer celebrating a passerby whose meticulously arranged clothing and jewelry reveals a very specific intentionality… these are all acts of recognizing the radiant invisible, made visible. We thrive in beautiful environments; they elicit within us an opening, a sense of wonder, an ability to rest in the Heart. Ultimately, to value beauty is to value the emanation of the Heart. 

Beauty and Anahata Chakra

This opening to beauty is the domain of anahata, the heart chakra. From here, beauty is born, and it is the part of us that recognizes beauty. B.K.S. Iyengar wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” This illumination is what is being recognized when beauty is celebrated. When our hearts are open, we can’t help but see such illumination everywhere. We can’t help but be drawn to that which is beautiful, to create more beauty in the world in order to reflect the beauty of God—which is found in the stillness of our being. 

Rather than dismissing beauty as a superficial concern, we can allow our hearts to guide us in realizing that beauty is not separate from us and that to love, appreciate, and celebrate beauty is an act of prayer. For all we experience is a creation of God. It is a prayer to celebrate what we have been offered and gifted. It is all beautiful because it is all made of beauty. Hafiz wrote, “The heart suffers when it cannot see and touch beauty, but beauty is not shy; it is synonymous with existence.” Perhaps we shy away from beauty because it is not shy. It demands attention and recognition. There is no hiding from beauty and pretending it is not there. Thus, there is no reason we should keep ourselves from experiencing and recognizing beauty. There is no reason for this self-inflicted suffering. Instead, we can choose to honor beauty. To see the act of enjoying a rose as an act of prayer. To allow beauty to be one more doorway into the depths of our heart, and not look down on it like an overgrown weed that has taken over the garden. 

Weeds are beautiful, too. 

“I saw that the divine beauty in each heart

is the root of all time

and space.–Rabia

Jessica is a Hridaya student and a frequent contributor to our blog.

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