The symbol of all art is the prism. The goal is destructive. To break up the white light of objective realism into the secret glories it contains.
—E. E. Cummings
Here we are, at the end. I was looking back through my document of newsletters, 110 pages and counting, and feeling amazed, even a little impressed, but just how much I’ve “produced” over the year. And then I paused and wondered—is that still the metric I’m using to value my life, myself? The answer was a clear no, and the reason for that change of heart has everything to do with what I found at the bottom of my file: beauty.
As you may remember, I like to orient my New Year’s intentions around a word—a mantra of sorts that I set out into the universe as a calling card, an invitation to see and observe whatever that idea or entity happens to be. Reading back my post from January 2022, I couldn’t help but smile by how perfectly my theme of the year, beauty, manifested itself—and not at all how I expected. Bemoaning the difficulties of the previous two years that cast a dark and ugly shadow over my all of our families and work, I wanted to reorient my perspective toward the opposite. To seek and stand in the light, even if just a sliver, that would ignite my agni, help me digest and absorb the new-and-changing normal conditions of the world, and transform those experiences into tissues, thoughts, and emotions that are healthy and, therefore, beautiful.
I started off focusing on seeking that spark from the outside: weekly flowers, self-adornment, etc. Honestly, that intention had the typical New Year’s resolution life-span (around a month), but the universe thankfully replaced those rituals with something even better, albeit even more challenging than starting a new habit of my own accord. I received the gift of someone else’s light—their gaze, their agni, their tejas—illuminating parts of myself that I’d resisted acknowledging, maybe didn’t even know existed, for a long time, if not forever. And in sitting in the discomfort (for me) of being seen, I’ve undergone a radical process of self-digestion and self-transformation, looking at, breaking down, and eliminating beliefs I’ve held fast to about myself and the world, to see things (maybe) a little more accurately. I’ve come to realize that the light of transformation, and the beauty it produces, is already in me—it is me. And that the practice of creating beauty is never done, but rather an urgent, essential, and glorious kind of work I can put myself in service of.
The truth is, of course, this is true of all of us—including you. When we’re evaluating ourselves on a scale of beauty, intelligence, success, power, or any other qualifier of social value, we align our energy in the exact opposite direction than what is helpful for feeling good and worthy about ourselves. Through comparison, pushing, and competition, we enter into a long-term state of fight-or-flight. As a reminder, this state (aka the stress response) wreaks havoc on the body and mind when it’s not activated as intended (in an acute, necessary phase that is, when there’s real danger afoot); long-term stress inhibits general housekeeping tasks of the body (digestion, elimination, immunity, cell repair, reproduction) while, energetically speaking, it siphons off our prana from the center to the periphery until, eventually, even our stress hormones run out of juice, and their job gets taken up by reproductive hormones, when then have their juice drained, too. In short, we’re in a state that is the exact opposite of feeling good, let alone beautiful.
By contrast, rest-and-digest (aka the relaxation response) is what we need to heal from this state of depletion, and then maintain a state of homeostasis once we return to baseline. Easier said than done, I know, but resting is really where it’s at. But here’s the thing about rest, which my year of beauty has also taught me by extension. My long-time resistance to rest has been the fear-induced all-or-nothing mindset I’ve applied to basically everything. If I rest, I assumed, will I ever be productive/useful/active? With a lot of practice (not just this year, more like 6 years), I’ve realized that the answer to this question is a resounding no. And in fact, with regular, small- to moderate-doses of rest, I not only lose the fear of not being productive, but it’s no longer a question at all. My world that was once black-and-white, on or off, rest or run, has been saturated with shades of gray and radiant technicolor, revealing that every activity in the spectrum of life—savasana, running, sleeping in, writing, teaching, being held—has its own utterly complete, incomparable beauty.
Throughout the month, I’ll be reprising the theme of beauty in this more digested sense, relishing in how what started as an empty vessel of space and inquiry and possibility has become full, dense, earthy, and replete with lived experience of this notion—the most authoritative form of knowledge per the Vedic traditions. I wonder if you’ll join me in discussion and practice, in The Space or by sending a simple email; and if you consider how the word you set for 2022 has manifested in your life, with or without your conscious effort, I’d love to hear about it.
Writing these love notes has no doubt been part of my ability to explore beauty with such surprising fullness, and so as I close out the year I also want to express gratitude to you, for being here with me, reading and digesting together even if from afar. Writing has been a lifeline for me since I could hold a pencil, and stepping into this facet of my identity as a writer, a faiteur as my hero E. E. Cummings would say (more on that next month/year), never ceases to be both a healing and inspiring endeavor for me. Feeling acknowledged through the written word, I’m buoyed by being able to reflect on the ever-changing nature of my thoughts that, in all 110+ pages, offer their own kind of abstract-and-concrete testament of me, offered to you to be further transformed into some other beautiful thing none of us could have imagined on our own.