Beauty

A bluebell woodland in England

Terraced rice fields in China

The hills of Tuscany in Italy

***

I ask myself “What is beauty?” There are many possibilities. Before your eyes are some of the world’s wonders. Drink in the mauves, the spring leaves, the shining waters, the touches of yellow, the feminine curves of the land. Our souls delight in the display.

Of all the images, though, my soul flies to the white horse. She is gazing at all of us, seeking out the end point of her affection. The Earth gladdens the eyes but the breathing being reaches the heart.

My personal favourites are human. They need not be splashed with colour, have cascading hair or smoothness of skin. They might be young, they might not. But there is an entrance to mystery that brings me to silence. And so I abide at the windowsill …

The Hand

It’s quite a miracle, really.  I could list all the sweet things that hands can do for us but you know those already.  Besides, it doesn’t feel like the way to go tonight.  There’s a mystery to this object that goes beyond its function.

The design of the hand just begs for reaching out, for beckoning, for drawing the other close.  Of course we can do that with words but there’s something magical about the curling of the fingers.

The palm is pretty cool.  There are all those lines and the stories they apparently tell … about me.  Then there’s the fact that the whole thing is a cup.  It’ll hold water.  It’ll hold anything that’s precious.

Growing up, I had no clue what a “whorl” was.  I do now, and it’s a pretty funky word.  Staring minutely at my fingertips reveals all these curved lines.  I wonder where they’re going.  I love how they meander across the skin … my skin.

The backs are immense as well.  I stretch my hand upwards and all these bones appear, in a fan shape.  I often look at the backs of my hands.  They remind me that I’m physical – an animal, full of bones and veins.  Blood is reaching every little bit of my dear body.  Nothing is left out.

I like the four and one nature of my fingers and thumb.  They get to embrace each other in a universal “okay” sign.  When they spread apart, there are lovely spaces between.  If I’m paying attention, I see that the space around things, and people, is important.  Room to breathe.

Then there’s the mirror effect – the left hand and the right.  They teach me the inner wonders of symmetry.  Plus I love it when they cuddle together, and when they fly apart to the sky.

And now my hands rest.

One hand I extend into myself
The other toward you

Green and Brown

Green

It was a TV commercial yesterday, featuring a wildly enthusiastic advocate of lawn maintenance.  Happily, three types of grass seed are available to the discriminating customer:

Tough for a strong, resilient lawn!
Relaxed 
– for a healthy lawn that takes less effort
Awesome 
– for your greenest, thickest lawn (worthy of a trophy)

We are left with a question for the ages:  What kind of lawn do you want?

Brown

Toubacouta, Senegal.  Yes, I saw grass there … clumps of long, wispy dryness.  The land was beige, without the extravagance of neon.  The soccer fields were made of the same.  Clouds of dust were sent aloft by the wind.  The only brilliant green I remember was in the women’s luscious dresses.

Is there a better/worse here?
If so, could it be different than what Western eyes see?

What Is Hidden?

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center near San Francisco. In his book The Wise Heart, he tells us of a wonder:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and had become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand.

The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility.

Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our buddhanature.

This is a first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

The statue stands ten feet tall. It is made of solid gold and weighs five-and-a-half tons.

Grace

Sometimes there are no words. There is simply an image to allow in.

When I’m at home, after showering and breakfast, it’s time to explore the world. I stand beside my bed and put on shirt and pants. My eyes are looking towards the ensuite bathroom and the photograph on the wall. It’s a ritual for me, and in the three years since I moved to Belmont, the experience has deepened.

It’s not just unconscious buttoning. It’s gazing towards another ocean. It’s glimpsing another realm of the spirit.

Outstretched. Beckoning. Including.

There is a stillness as the tail reaches its highest point, and a yearning for the surge downward. There is strength. There are the curves of nature and the wonder of water all around. There are the drips falling down to rejoin the sea.

The image hushes my breath every time. No life lessons come easily at such moments but I know that standing quietly and looking softly are important. Someone broader than me knows what’s happening. I’ll just continue to revel in the salute, the blessing and the photographer’s eye.

Slo Mo

I love watching women.  I love watching women tennis players.  This week the best eight players in the world are competing in the WTA Finals.  The matches aren’t available on TV in Canada.  Instead I see them on DAZN, a streaming service.  It’s pretty cool … everything in HD, and no commercials.

The video cameramen and women are brilliant, not just during the run of play but also when the athletes are resting between games.  What’s especially marvelous are the closeups of human beings, and the times when the grace of tennis is revealed in slow motion.  I just stared this morning at the beauty of it all.  Here are some of my favourite moments:

1.  A young girl in the audience, eyes soft, her head resting on her arm

2.  A photographer’s index finger poised on the button of his camera

3.  A player running after the ball … the rippling of the thigh muscles as the foot lands

4.  A closeup of a player’s eyes as she ponders life while resting on her bench

5.   Fingers curled in a fist pump as she celebrates a winner

6.  An Asian spectator, her mouth forming a circle after a great shot

7.  A hand gently squeezing a ball, ready to serve

8.  The flex of the foot on the serve, the muscle above the tennis shoe moving with the tendon

9.  A cut on the leg, the blood dabbed away and then slowly reappearing

10.  Just a ball floating upwards on the serve … oh so slowly

11.  The hands of two champions coming together at the end of the match

***

The slow motion created these dances
I was transfixed by the loveliness, the flow, the rhythms of sport
Thank you, DAZN

Napoli

Lydia and me in Napoli

***

I had heard lots of negative stuff about Naples: it was dirty, smelly, and so congested with traffic that you couldn’t drive into the city. So why go? Lydia was interested in seeing the catacombs – underground burial sites from as long ago as 200 AD. She and Curd figured out that we could drive to Caserta, take the train to downtown, and then the subway to the resting place of the ancients. Okay, let’s do it. I’ll hold my nose when the time comes.

We climbed the steps out of the Metro station, and just like my first view of New York in January, I was blasted with life – tall buildings with their laundry flapping off balconies, surges of smiling faces, cobbled streets. “Oh my God … where am I?” I just stood.

We headed up an incredibly narrow street, with five levels of balconies looming above, and cars squeezing by as we hugged the walls. Sadly, we were in destination mode, and I wasn’t fully being with my world. Soon we were at the gate of the catacombs and descending many stairs to the dark entrance. Stone walls said “Come on in” and we walked where the flesh and bones of thousands of people had come to rest. There were large holes in the walls for adults, small ones for kids. It was quiet and we were quiet. Only the tones of our tour guide broke the spell.

What did I want down here? It wasn’t holes in walls. There were many frescoes painted in recesses, showing wealthy folks. I wanted their eyes. And so I wandered around, seeking communion. Eye contact with those who have been dead for centuries … it was magical. There were messages coming towards me but they were just beyond my conscious mind.

We meandered through Napoli for hours. Little cafés welcomed us in. Servers smiled. Lovers kissed. Folks walked through the squares hand in hand. The descending sun shone golden on old stone. Life rippled around us and through us. Alleys hosted tiny bars with a couple of tables. I looked and looked and was everywhere mesmerized by the beauties.

I’m coming back, dear Napoli, hopefully with a new life partner. Together we will join the smiles, the pizza, the light on the harbour towards sunset. Such a home for celebrating love. All of us human beings deserve to be here.

Mesmerica

There are IMAX movie theatres, where the show is projected onto a huge dome ahead and above. Then there’s Mesmerica, which I experienced today. The six of us sat in our tilted chairs as computerized patterns of light blended with fanciful music. The creator, James Hood, wanted us to experience an altered state of consciousness … and happiness.

There were moments of transcendence. Peacock feathers vibrated above me. Giant discs of light slowly descended, morphing as they fell. It felt like God was embracing me.

On one arm of the journey, a beam of bluish light wound its way through a forest of deciduous trees, over this branch and under that one. I joined in the search, for what I don’t know. The seeking was soft and sweet.

The explosions of colour throughout the hour felt so new. Mr. Hood let his mind open, and fresh air clearly rushed through. What appeared before us just didn’t exist a year ago. What majesty to bring something unknown into being.

Beyond the openmouthedness of it all was the swirl of disorientation. The constant flow of the images brought me to a swoon. I bet I closed my eyes fifty times during the hour. I needed those respites for centering. A wee bit of me felt guilty for missing some of the display but I was happier when I was taking care of myself. The heavens were being revealed above but there was also a heaven inside to be embraced. And the patterns of light found their way through the eyelids and into my heart. All was well.

Reunion

I just got home.  Two hours and twenty minutes of my evening were spent walking the fairways of Tarandowah.  Lucky me.

The air was cool and the wind was brisk.  With a down jacket under a water resistant shell, and the hood tied tight, I headed down the first fairway.  I was happy.  It felt like the grass was caressing my feet and they were returning the favour.  This was a time to be alone with my friend.  I saw a few golfers off in the distance but basically the course was mine to explore.  And I know all the nooks and crannies.  (Speaking of which, have you ever seen a cranny?)

I wondered at the rolling fairways … so sensuous.  The fescue grass was just starting its growing thing in the rough, green instead of mid-season wispy brown.  But the blades blew strong anyway, rippling like the ocean.  Tarandowah also has long fescue growing on the far edges of the bunkers, so mini-oceans graced my path.

Birds said hello.  Swallows dipped and dived close to the grass.  Five little birdies were fanatic as they chased a big bird away from their nests.  The pursuit must have extended for two hundred metres.  And then there were the little pecking fellows in the rough.  Apparently there’s lots to eat in there.

Crossing the bridge in front of the seventh tee, I saw a swimmer exiting stage left.  It was a muskrat.  She swished that long tail to get away.  Once I was at a safe distance, she pulled onto a tiny sand bar and washed her face.  Very cool.

I thought that the sunset would do its job before I completed my eighteen hole journey, and I was right.  The declining sun turned the bunker sand golden and gave the fairways an animated sheen.  Long shadows danced through the hollows and brought the mounds alive.  And the wind died.

I stood on the thirteenth green, at the end of the world, with bare fields on two sides.  I was alone in the universe, and yet immersed in a communion of spirit.  I stood on the high point of land behind the sixth tee, and gazed over 360º of beauty.  Faraway pins standing on faraway greens.  The odd car making its way along a distant country road.  I stood on the mounds behind the eighth green and was entranced by all the curves.  An artist named Martin Hawtree (Tarandowah’s architect) had used broad brush strokes here.  And then there was the broad sweep of the fourteenth, looking suspiciously like the mural on my bedroom wall.

On the eighteenth fairway, darkness was settling in.  If I had been golfing, I wouldn’t have been able to follow the flight of the ball.  I looked to the tiny clubhouse as I finished the journey … all dark.  Golfers and staff members had gone home.  I was already there.

Have I Left Tarandowah Behind?

1.  I moved to Belmont three years ago because I wanted to be closer to the Tarandowah Golfers Club.

2.  I haven’t played a round of golf in two years.

Put those two statements together and the answer to the question would appear to be yes.

Tarandowah is a links-style course that was created from Ontario farmland.  The British Isles are home to many courses carved from “links” land – tracts of wild grasses and sand dunes that separate farmland from the sea.  No ocean resides anywhere near Tarandowah but there are magnificent mounds of fescue grass gracing the rough, along with rolling fairways and over a hundred pot bunkers.  You see very few trees, similar to famous courses such as St. Andrews in Scotland.

I’ve long considered Tarandowah to be a home for me.  A place to walk and feel the land far more than a place to hit a little white ball, obsess over the details of my swing, and judge my self-worth by the number on the scorecard.

I’ve talked to members of the beauty I see, and very few folks seem interested.  “Aren’t the mounds behind the eighth green amazing?”  And then there’s the sublime island of fescue in the the middle of the sixth fairway.  Plus the long dogleg sweep of the par five dogleg left fourteenth.

I keep the fourteenth close to my heart.  An entire wall of my bedroom hosts a mural of the hole, viewed from behind the green.  From that spot, I can see the approach to the sixth, the faraway thirteenth at the very end of the world, and the cavalcade of mounds reaching from the fourteenth tee.  On my better days, I wake up with “Good morning, Tarandowah” on my lips.

Back problems stopped my golfing but those ills are now in the past.  Still I don’t feel pulled to play.  I don’t hit the ball very far off the tee (180 yards) and I’ve never broken 100 at my friend who disguises herself as a golf course.  But I can feel the love affair.  Walking the quiet fairways near sunset is a caress on the soles of my feet.  I love the sweep of the greens – so many dips and dives of a gentle kind.  The curves suggest a woman’s body to me.  I am often in awe.

There’s usually a breeze and it feels good as it permeates my body.  The stroll is slow as the sun declines.  The birds have things to say.  And very occasionally … there is the red fox.  Standing on the thirteenth green, I am alone in the world, far from the clubhouse.  On the mound behind the sixth tee, I turn to see ten holes spread before me.  To be on the high point of land seems right.  It’s home.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Canada – Victoria Day.  She was the Queen of England way back when.  Thank you, Victoria.  I will use your gift to walk the fairways of Tarandowah again, as the day begins its farewell.  Lovers should be together.

***

So the answer is … no.