The Secret of the Aesthetic Epiphany

Awakening to the Immense Beauty Within and Around You.

There is a rather popular saying in America that is something like an admonition to avoid being superficial.  The saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  The saying is then modified to apply to our interactions with each other. In that case it states, “Beauty is only skin deep.”  In other words it would be very superficial to judge a person’s character by the person’s looks.  The true character or the real person can only be discovered by going beyond superficial appearances.  In some respects this applies to the larger reality as well.  We miss something of the true nature of reality if our values remain superficial. True beauty lies within (beyond the surface).  This means there is a reciprocal connection between appreciating what is truly beautiful and awakening aesthetic perception.

As a person learns to get beyond being narrow-minded to becoming more intuitively, open-minded the aesthetic appreciation increases. To guide a person through a process that helps with the aesthetic awakening I often ask a person to imagine a tree in winter. Most people really value the fact that trees absorb much of our carbon pollution thus people respect trees even in winter without the greenness and blossoms.  I then ask the person to imagine a tree in spring when it is full of blossoms and beginning to show leaves.  Next I ask the person to reflect on what is apparent in spring that is not there in winter.  What we see and feel in spring we find more pleasing in a pleasantly energizing way but we also find it more aesthetically stimulating.

It is this aspect of the appearance that is present in spring that is the basis of the Far Eastern celebration of the cherry blossom and the practice of ikebana.  If it was the superficial appearance alone then the appreciation would be very short-lived and actually accompanied by sadness (especially in the case of ikebana because the beauty soon fades).  We take the cut flowers into our homes and admire their beauty and fragrance but after only a few days they begin to fade. What we were attracted to is no longer apparent so most people throw the drying flowers away. However what the ikebana artist wants to portray and what the admirer of the cherry blossom understands is that nature is evidence of a creative force that is manifest through form.

The true beauty is not the form itself but an underlying creative impulse that sparks aesthetic sensations.

The tree’s form is the same in summer and winter but in spring it expresses a vibrancy that accentuates its form. We do respect the form (as I said earlier most people have a very high positive regard for trees even in winter).  However when one’s sensitivities are awakened to the creative force that is manifest through natural forms the person increases the potential for experiencing the aesthetic awakening.

We tend to view things (including ourselves) as discrete, separate things.  This thought of separateness is how the understanding of individuality (self as ego) emerges.  Aesthetic awakening begins when you realize (for example) that some part of the earth becomes a part of your person when you eat the fruit(s).  Some part of your person then returns to the earth and the earth then gives birth to strawberries.  Then something in you has a desire or an urge that wants to be fulfilled.  You recognize that the strawberries that the earth produced can satisfy that desire.  They are not separate things but share an interconnected wholeness, unity or harmony.  By expanding the ego-to enable sensing this harmony-the feeling of a separate self is lessened and the awareness of the creative impulse underlying all appearances becomes more apparent.

The aesthetic awakening (this revelatory type epiphany) is often described asself discovery (or what Whitney Houston called The Greatest Love of All). It occurs when one opens his or her normal rational way of calculating reality to the “heart-mind.”  This means expanding the typical linear way of viewing things to include a more intuitive and creative capacity.  It changes the way a person feels about him or herself, triggering a more satisfying feeling within plus between the person and the greater reality.

Our minds insist on the thought of our having a self or ego that is concrete and particular.  Subject-object is the classical way in which this is described, I-subject and tree-object. But the thought of separate existence always vanishes into a new transformation or new change. So aesthetic awareness teaches that although the ego will persist in the thought of being separate in reality the ego will necessarily go through a transformation that can be considerably painful without the accompanying consciousness of unity and harmony.  Life is change, growth, renewal or recreation.  It is this change or transformation that gives life meaning or in which the meaning is revealed for otherwise things would be static or frozen.

William Blake has written an amazingly insightful depiction of aesthetic perception.  “To see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower, To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”  The poetic words of William Blake describe an aesthetic way of perceiving reality.  By aesthetic I mean that the experience results from the recognition of something very beautiful within that shapes the way a person perceives and experiences without.  Such an awakening is nothing less than an epiphany; I call it the aesthetic awakening.  Many approaches to achieving a more harmonic connection with nature, experiencing Holistic well-beingas well as many Eastern philosophies promote such a perspective on life.

The term epiphany can be defined as “A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into reality or the essential meaning of something. The experience is often described as initiated by some natural occurrence or experience.”

However the dictionary definition includes the possibility that a great creative work, literary work or poetic expression also can symbolically stimulate a revelatory type insight.  In other words it is connected with a more aesthetic way of sensing, feeling and perceiving reality. Aesthetic perception enables a person to have such an experience resulting in realizing the beauty within and awakening to more of the surrounding beauty.

What Whitney sensed and tried to help the public to understand is a feeling that is aroused by something within thus is not dependent on outer objects. It is an opening of the heart to the inner most self resulting in life seeming more like a dream come true.  Remember, “God is love!” Thus this feeling is connected with your eternal well-being. It is trusting that still, small voice there in your inner most being (or in your heart) where the Creator speaks to you.  Aesthetic sensitivity awakens when you have the faith to allow this “heart-mind” to shape your thoughts, emotions and actions. Next the person realizes that his same creative power which supplies you the breath of life (the essence of your being) is indeed the same power that is manifest as all of creation.

Whitney was right to call this the greatest love of all.  This is what in perennial philosophy is called the joy of discovering the inner most self.  As with faith the heart-mind leads, the body and mind follows.  For as Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand!”  The greatest love of all opens a person to a wider spectrum of feelings, emotions and awareness that includes the possibility of ecstasy (a variation of the term esthetic). Fellowship is sharing this experience (feeling) with someone else but the important thing is that it is not dependent on someone else. It is the discovery of the source of your eternal well-being there at the center of your own being.

The aesthetic epiphany results from acquiring the sensitivity to recognize that this creative life force (that first supplied humanity with the breath of life) is the quality sustaining all our fellow brothers and sisters (whether they have the faith to realize it or not).  It is learning to recognize this quality within all of our brother and sisters in spite of their social superficialities. This quality is indeed the primordial first principle of creation. Thus that which is apparent in spring that is only latent in winter is a clear manifestation of this first principle of creation.  The aesthetic epiphany is awakening to the fact that this creative force is the essence in which we “Live and move and have our being.”

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