A bit more about beauty. And how important it is to see our own beauty if we are to act and respond rightly respecting the beauty of the natural and human world. Justice, the fair distribution of wealth, immediate response to a famine, whatever caused it, holding true to the democratic principles we profess even when it is not to our political advantage: these are beautiful things too. They save us from chaos, inhumanity and the breakdown of civilized values.
But they depend upon our having seen our own beauty. Our capacity to see this is partly a matter of social and psychological conditioning. This struck me once when I was teaching meditation in a developed Asian country. I noticed two students sitting apart from the rest looking and listening with a strong sense of detachment from the group. After the session they came up and shyly introduced themselves. They were on a business scholarship from North Korea. In good English they told me that they had not understood a word I was saying. That, I thought, explained the way they were looking at me during the talk. I must have seemed like an extra-terrestrial. All the concepts I was developing were strange, foreign and meaningless. They had no religious, spiritual or intellectual framework to make sense of them.
Until, at least, they heard me say that meditation is transformative because it makes us aware and brings us into contact with our own essential goodness. This is a relatively familiar idea, even a platitude, for most of us. But for them, from a culture of what seems a devastatingly bleak, fearful, and oppressive landscape, where the art of living is replaced by the monochromatic art of survival, this simple idea hit them like a meteorite.
Lent is a time where the skills of the art of living are refined. Pencils sharpened, instruments tuned, words rinsed out. One of its benefits may be that we, too, get a healthy shock when the platitude becomes an original insight. My true nature is a work of beauty. It resonates with beauty in all forms around me in which I participate. I am not perfect, but beautiful. My many imperfections even show up the beauty more clearly and, perhaps, more heart-breakingly. Like a stain, a tear or a break in the pattern of a beautiful carpet. (There is no beauty that hath not some imperfection in it).