Sunday, April 27, 2014

Excruciatingly "Beautiful"

Pristine Blue Skies, Spring Blossoms, Desert Day"

At first it may seem somewhat odd that when people encounter great beauty - a piece of art, a magnificent symphony, a golden sunset, they often refer to their experience as "excruciatingly beautiful." One might think that an encounter with the "Beautiful" would be soothing and pleasant, but in the face of Beauty that is so sublime, it is excruciating - almost too hard to take it all in.

In my life out here in the desert, I often have moments that are excruciatingly "Beautiful." Just yesterday I had a moment like that. For the past few days the winds have been howling through these desert canyons and whenever that happens, they clean out the air leaving everything feeling and looking refreshed and renewed. The blue sky is bluer than ever- pristine, even primordial as if it were the dawn of creation.

Yesterday, I walked a wilderness trail under these pristine blue skies, the snow-capped desert stone mountains towering over me, spring blossoms everywhere. It was excruciatingly "Beautiful"- almost too painful to take it all in.

My experience on the trail yesterday reminded me of the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about Moses on the mountaintop where he encounters "Beauty." Moses is engulfed by the light of the Holy Presence  represented by a burning bush, the passionately blazing light of love. Everything is glowing with the light -  Moses is glowing, the mountain is glowing, the trees and rocks and hills, all aglow. The light is so intense that it hurts. In fact it is all so excruciatingly "Beautiful" that Moses has to cover his face with a veil or he will die-consumed by it all.

As I have reflected on it, the experience of Moses on that mountaintop is a perfect metaphor for why the experience of sublime Beauty is painful.  Encountering this kind of Beauty we, like Moses, are indeed consumed by the light.  We are pulled out of the ego. Our "self" melts into the light and becomes one with the ONE.  The experience is a death to an "old self" and a birth to a newer "true self."  The experience is awesome, wonderful, glorious and yet excruciatingly painful because dying is painful, and unless the "self" is shielded by a veil, it will surely be consumed by the light.

I think that, at the moment of our physical death, when our days on earth are over, we will no longer have need of the veil.

On my way back home yesterday, I recalled a wise old Zen saying that seems to capture something of my excruciatingly "Beautiful" moment out there on the trail.

The true person is not anyone in particular;
but like the deep blue color of the limitless sky,
it is everyone - everyone in the world.

This morning as I sit in my garden at the the beginning of yet another excruciatingly "Beautiful" day in the desert, I call to mind several other wisdom sayings. I recite them as mantras on this glorious new beginning of the week.

By day I praised YOU and never knew it.
By night I stayed with YOU and never knew it.
I always thought that I was me..but no, I was YOU. 
And never knew it.

Joy is the realization of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world,
and the world-soul with the supreme love.

I am in you and you are in Me, and where you are there I AM.
I am sown in all things and when you gather Me,
it is you, yourself you gather.
(Words of Jesus- Gnostic Gospel of Eve)

I sit in my garden and gaze upon those towering mountains surrounding me.

The birds have vanished into the sky and now the last clouds drain away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.
So excruciatingly "Beautiful! "

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