Years ago while on a trip through Hong Kong two meaningful events occurred. The first happened while I was walking down a crowded street. A lovely lady breezed by, leaving me stunned by the fragrance of her perfume. I should have turned back to ask her what the intoxicating scent was. But I didn’t. Some 40 years later, I can still vividly recall the compelling bouquet and wished I had found out what it was. Had I done so, I am sure I would have brought it into my life in some meaningful way for years to come.
On that same trip, I was staying in a high rise hotel. At each floor as the elevator opened, a small gallery painting was being offered for sale. Again, “Bam!” I was not just hooked, but mesmerized by one of these paintings. This time I got off the elevator and spent time admiring the piece. The subject was an old Chinese flat bottomed sampan boat, floating in the bay. The price was high, way out of my comfort zone, so I let it go.
Throughout the years, I have reflected on how much I would have enjoyed, over and over, the sheer beauty of what the artist had captured. As I look back on it, it was a rare moment. Yes, I have art that I like, but this was something that transfixed me, something I found myself resonating with on a very deep level.
An occurrence like this comes along only very rarely. I am not talking about the act of buying something pleasant or finding a collectible that we might routinely acquire. This represented way more: A piece of art that held the power to transform my state of being.
In the ensuing years I moved from being regretful for not having acted in either of these situations, to being grateful for the awareness that certain kinds of sense stimulations, although rare, reshaped me. It was the awareness of being altered that was all that really mattered. But what exactly that transformative state was, I had no idea at the time.
In James Joyce’s noteworthy book, Portrait of An Artist, he referred to the highest form of art as “static art,” which is art that literally stops you and places you in a state of awe. In this state we are open and receptive and the art arrests us, so much so, that the chatter of our mind ceases.
While living on the Big Island of Hawaii I had been fortunate enough to become friends with Terence McKenna, the noteworthy ethnobotanist and psychedelic explorer. One afternoon while conducting a seminar at our home, he was discussing why he had been so drawn to psychedelic experiences.
Terence said that Plato had once stated that truth, beauty and goodness were one in the same. Yet he, (Terence) found it very difficult to know what is actually true or good, mainly because these two values can change with both time and perspective.
However, for him, the revelatory experience derived from great beauty was much easier to seek and realize. Terence mentioned that while meditating he could experience calm, tranquility, and perhaps even great insights, but it was the psychedelic landscape that produced “spellbinding” beauty.
This is the kind of beauty to which I am referring. Beauty that serves as a doorway or portal. Beauty that embraces and enfolds us, and connects us to higher dimensions and expanded states of consciousness.
Through the ups and downs of life, I began to understand beauty as a catalyst that presents itself not only to our immediate senses, but is alive in many other manifestations. For example, there is beauty in the way we lead our lives. There is the elegant solution to a problem. There is the profound appreciation for a consummate performance. And, there is the exquisiteness of inspirational behavior, expressions of great leadership, sacrifice, or simple acts of kindness.
There are countless ways from this vantage point to seek beauty, but just thinking about it from this viewpoint can be the start of a rewarding journey. In my case, the perfume and painting incidents were like an alarm clock, a wake-up call, which showed how important the conscious quest for beauty is and how it can lead to a surprisingly richer existence — one to which we all can be drawn.
–Sanderson Sims, July 15, 2020
Photo by: Matthew Henry/Burst