the first of four insights that were carefully guarded by the ancient medicine men and women of the Americas. In the Way of the Hero, we learn how to turn wounds into sources of power and compassion.
To practice beauty is to perceive loveliness even when there’s ugliness. For example, instead of thinking of a coworker as an endless complainer who makes the workplace unbearable, we can perceive him from the level of hummingbird and recognize that he’s a perfect symbol of our need to learn how not to personalize other people’s unhappiness. When he comes into our cubicle to tell us that we left out a detail in a report, insisting that the document is a disaster and he’ll have to rewrite it, we recognize that he’s our teacher.
While our minds will always tell us, “What a jerk,” we remember what we’re meant to learn: not to overreact to criticism, not to become defensive, but to remain centered when others are upset or fuming. Then we can bring beauty to the moment by smiling.
“Beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty all around me”—these words come from a Navaho prayer of gratitude, from a person who sees only beauty in the world. In other words, we must notice what is pleasant in unexpected places. I once went to an exhibit of paintings by an artist who was fascinated by dark alleyways. His paintings of places we usually associate with fear, danger, dirt, and loneliness were alive with energy, bursting with color and pattern. When he painted, he clearly was practicing beauty.
My forthcoming book, The Heart if the Shaman: Stories and Practices of the Luminous Warrior, reinforces the concept of the practice of beauty through what is known as the giveaway. The giveaway helps us experience greater happiness and well-being while transforming the world by bringing beauty and healing where there is ugliness, alleviating the suffering of others, and creating peace where there is conflict.
Acknowledging that few of us see beauty for more than a fleeting instant, the giveaway of beauty calls on us to recognize beauty in everything and point it out to everyone. Let someone else explain why it will not last, why it is sure to fade away with age, or is not as important as someone else’s bad news, gossip, drama, or pessimism. Let people believe that you are naïve, that you are not in touch with reality or that you do not watch the news.
When you practice beauty, you have time in your life, because beauty takes you into timelessness. Beauty requires stillness, pausing, stopping in your tracks at the sight of the new blossom on the almond tree, or the cactus flower that only blooms for one night.
Seeing beauty is not a passive act—it is an active and empowering deed. When you see beauty above all else, you are transforming the map you carry of reality, and that most likely you inherited from your parents when you were young. When your internal maps are filled with beauty, your outer world is likewise infused with splendor.
Bring beauty to every moment by smiling sincerely. Give others your joy. Give others the gift of seeing the beauty within them and within every situation. Beauty will seek and find you. As you recognize beauty in others, acknowledge it to them. Speak words of beauty, including the words “Thank you.” Find something beautiful in every person you speak with, even if it is a difficult and challenging conversation. Bring flowers home. Say a gracious word to a colleague. Uplift a friend.
The sages discovered that creation is not complete, that on the seventh day the Great Spirit was not finished, and said, “I have created the butterflies and the whales and the eagles. Aren’t they beautiful? Now you keep at it.” By perceiving only beauty you are dreaming beauty into creation.
As you practice beauty you get to taste infinity and touch your own immortality. You will have time to laugh, time to meditate, time to help others. This is our sacred task, to complete creation with beauty, in beauty, from beauty. Give your beauty freely unto others, and beauty will surround you until the end of your days.