Language, Beauty & Evolution
Once I knew only darkness and stillness… my life was without past or future…
but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that
clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.
At the age of 19 months an illness left Helen Keller blind and deaf, lost in a dark and soundless world. How then did she become a prolific writer (12 books and numerous articles), tireless advocate for economic justice, activist for the rights of women and people with disabilities, respected lecturer, world traveler (she visited 39 countries), Oscar winner (1955) and student of foreign languages (she studied Latin, Greek, French, German)? It all began with a word! The moment she discovered the word water, a vast and beautiful world opened up for her and that word not only changed her world, it changed ours as well.
Here is what her teacher, Ann Sullivan wrote on that fateful day when a world of color, beauty and heart emerged from the dark catacombs of isolation for young Helen: …We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled “”w-a-t-e-r”” in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled “water” several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled ”Teacher.”
P.S. …Helen got up this morning like a radiant fairy. She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy. How is it that one word can bring forth a world of connection, splendour, hope, love, creativity, color, peace, contribution and immense joy – and yet another word can lead to separation, ugliness, resignation, hate, alienation, war and destruction? I would like to explore the connection between beauty, truth and evolution with you in this month’s column.
The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
Our language shapes how we meet the world and the world we live in is the one that lives in the stories we tell. If you want to know why your life is the way it is, just observe what you are speaking and listening into existence. Our actions live inside the language and words we use. We believe that there is a world “out there” and somehow the image of the outer world meets our retina or eardrum and produces an accurate representation of what we are seeing and hearing. But, it is not so. The world that we experience in our consciousness is not the “real world”, whatever that is, although it does constitute our reality. The real world for us is the story that we live inside of, which is constantly shaping our actions, interactions and perceptions. While my world has similarities to yours, it has more to do with our cultural brain development than objective reality. We live inside a model of the world that is literally created by our brain, and shaped by the stories we hear and tell. Each of us has a different perspective on the world and therefore a different reality.
It’s our ability to interact somewhat reliably with the world that causes us to believe it’s real. We can never know for sure, but our brain tends to treat beliefs as if they are 100% true, until we discover to our surprise, that we’re wrong. Our stories about others and ourselves are also not real, they are fabrications based on our experience, beliefs, assumptions and what we have been told or heard from others. How then is one to know truth?
We are made immortal, by the contemplation of beauty.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I grow older I find great solace in experiencing truth in beauty. It is a truth that, while I am still immersed in the world of language, seems to transcend my story and leave me in a deep and abiding sense of presence and stillness. I am not talking about the glamor and glitz of the jet set, high fashion, man made, diamond studded, wall street consumer oriented beauty. I am talking about the beauty that stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away. The beauty that opens your heart and connects you with the natural world and the web of life; a sunrise over still waters mist rising to greet the day, a certain tree you meet in the forest when the light streams in through its branches, or the birth of a newborn baby… there is so much beauty in the world!
Kalon is a word in Greek, which means both “good” and “beautiful” at the same time. We don’t have a word like this in our culture, which seems to have lost it’s relationship to beauty and I would suggest to goodness. We so often tend to focus on all the ugliness and negative things that are happening in the world and get caught up in awfulizing, which is really just another story. True beauty has the power to bring us into the present moment, beyond our beliefs and stories of good and bad. Beauty reminds us of the goodness in the world. It points to an order, a perfection, a virtuousness and a knowing that there is an evolutionary force that moves towards the good and the beautiful. It fills a hunger that is so missing in our culture and our times.
The human soul is hungry for beauty… When we experience the Beautiful,
there is a sense of homecoming.
What if we began to shift, at least some portion of our day, to exploring our relationship to goodness and beauty. To begin to meet the world with a greater sense of wonder, awe and reverence. How would the story of our lives change if we were scanning our world for beauty and goodness? Starting within ourselves! What beauty can we discover within, what goodness? Can we bring a sense of wonder and curiosity to exploring the magic of just being here in this body on this abundant planet in this vastly expanding universe? How much of our day is caught up in ugliness, listening to the news, worrying about how our life is going to turn out, withholding our goodness in fear of lack, being a victim of our past?
There is an order and aesthetic to everything. To recognize it, experience it and open to the inherent beauty of being alive, is to find ourselves at home in the majesty of the universe. This requires stepping out of our mostly self-debasing stories of inadequacy, doubt and lack. This is how we become one with the force of evolution itself. When we find the beauty within ourselves we give permission to others to experience their own radiance, to open and flower in the shining of our reflected light. Seeing the beauty around us means that there is more beauty in the world. We evolve towards what we see and experience which shapes the stories that creates our future…
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
I invite our readers this month to schedule time in your busy schedule to immerse yourself in beauty, what ever that means to you. It is there that we can discover together our own goodness, step out of our old story and into the presence of our own loveliness, and belonging. Beauty and goodness are calling forth a new voice, a new level of gratitude for the miraculous unfolding of our world…
With love and blessings,
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and
the whole of nature in its beauty.