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October 10, 2019

How to find the beauty in the ‘not-beautiful’: A prayer on this World Mental Health Awareness Day.

A few months ago I wrote down the following words in my ‘notebook of marvellous inspiring things’ so that I would, at some point, return to them and become more intimate with their meaning. I like doing this. When we come upon another’s words, poem, story, lines, sometimes these plant tiny seeds of prayer and becoming within our bellies. These ones, by the author of ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, did:

   ‘To touch the not beauty with tenderness.

   ‘What is the not-beautiful? Our own secret hunger to be loved is the not-beautiful. Our disuse and misuse of love is the not-beautiful. Our dereliction in loyalty and devotion is unlovely, our sense of soul-separateness is homely, our psychological warts, inadequacies, misunderstandings and infantile fantasies are the not-beautiful. Additionally, the Life/Death/Life nature, which births, destroys, incubates and births again, is considered by our cultures the not-beautiful.’

The not-beautiful.

How exquisite is that?!

Life is ironic at times, and, as I have oft repeated over the last year or so, possibly with a little too much vehemence, God is a trickster!

It’s World Mental Health Awareness day today. I haven’t written anything for a while. A good few months now. Nothing that has left the confines of my computer or notebook, where stories and musings linger mainly unfinished, untethered and frayed ideas of momentum spun words soon lost all motor and meaning. I get it. I really do.

They’re a bit like me at the moment. Spun a little in the silks of the not-beautiful!

When we find ourselves in struggle with our mind, with our mental health, with any imbalance or slight or full tilt of our emotional, physical or mindful capacities, one of the things that becomes obscured by the fog of such matters, is the ability to see, view, find and appreciate beauty. It, alongside joy, passion, pleasure, relevant robust vitality and curious enthusiasm, goes AWOL for the time being, most likely absconded to some sunnier climes with less chance of brooding shadows and unpredictable weather! Well it appears that way anyways. I have in the past called these ‘mind imps’ (that’s a kind, child friendly term by the way!), ‘space thieves’, as that’s exactly what they do: rob, steal and violently violate our peace of mind.

And yet, perhaps the balm is precisely that. To seek for beauty, to fervently and feverishly fight for its remembering. For sometimes it may be all that we can turn towards, can hold on to, when life is pared down and so much falls away irrelevant, the basic premise that really, in a way, life is both beauty and brutal, and of course all shades of becoming in the midst between.

(I am aware as I write these words that I am not intending to deny the deeper pain of mental illness that leads to total desolation and devastation. I’m guessing that the ask to find beauty at such times when the mind is at its most dark may be pretty impossible. I understand. But it may be worth a try. Just a tiny teaspoon sized try. Maybe, and, well, maybe not.)

I love what Clarissa writes. The not-beautiful is only such because our minds cannot fathom how some holy hell, and the rest, can fit in such a labelling. I get it. I really do. I recall, a few years back, being knee deep in the waters of grief and broken heartedness (as I write this it occurs to me that perhaps all mental health issues are really a cry of grief from some part of our unfathomably wild and wondered system). Dragging myself out of the house I went to a dance class, an Open Floor session with a beauty and soul-full hearted teacher and just the right sprinkle of folk on the dance floor! Starting all foetal like and wimpet-esque, never expecting to be of much movement nor use, it wasn’t long before something drew me up and out of the malingering melancholy and I was surprised to find such joy alongside the grief. It wasn’t imposing over nor denying that which was, but it was a clear and deeply gifted experience of this ‘beauty and brutal’ that is most likely most of the time the paradoxical mystery that holds the gravity and gravitas of life spinning like a maniac on its axis!

Perhaps there is scope in the weak light, curtains pulled back, black and white survival so-so sanity, for a little drop of beauty to be found. Reading information, advice and articles amongst the helpful or harmful (depending on who is looking) plethora available on line and one fishing hook piece of advice often offered is the seemingly simple humanising tasks of getting out of bed, getting dressed, brushing ones teeth, making a cup of tea, some soup etc. A manual of to do-ing that reads like a list of meditative mindful behaviours. I do not mock nor jest though. When you feel the most unhuman of the species as it’s possible to feel, any of the above can seem like the most monumental mountain to manage. As I say, I get it. I really do.

You see, as we all know well and good, mental health is about the mind, and the rather random and cruel ways it spits on our wellbeing and plays havoc with who we are. I have always been fascinated by our minds. Being a human being. By how we’re made up, each of us, unique and captivating, sometimes enchanting and awe-inspiring, and other times dull and irritating. Why God has given us the ability to create chiasmic chaos in the grey matter of our life matterings, is a mystery to me! Do you think he got bored? You never hear it said that on the seventh day God rested but then last minute late at night, had an impulsive and possibly oft regretted and shameful notion, to sprinkle a packet of ‘what the actual fuck-ness’ into the minds of a (un)lucky few who might have happened to be passing by at such an unfortunate time!? Sure sure, so much mental health depends on chemistry, nature, nurture, life’s roll of the die, and other such reckonings. Or so ‘we’ reckon hey?! Who knows really?

I wonder how much of missing the beauty in the ordinary of life contributes to the weight of woe that becomes something more insidious. It’s not part of our societal curriculum is it?! To pause to notice the beauty. In this moment. And this one. And now this one too. In the mundane and musty motions of surviving a really challenging day. It’s about refining our connection to life. Through the senses. The physical body. The ABC’s of being in a felt-sensing body, that sometime after learning these a long time ago we have forgot. They’re not deemed important. I argue that they are. In fact they may indeed be vital, especially if you’re experiencing dissociation and other protective yet painfully detaching symptoms. To reclaim our senses, our pleasure, our physicality, our home! Surely this is our birthright no?!

But is it necessary to find the beauty? I don’t know to be honest. It’s just a possibility. It just might make us remember who we are. It may just give a momentary passing pulse of pleasure, of passion, of peace. Surely, in the mire of mental mayhem, that moment may be a start. Just a start.

And one more thing. To label the vagaries of our experience often produces an added film of a fixed flawed fulcrum that we don’t need to carry too. That of shame. Being shamed for being. To rephrase these places and inward spaces as the ‘not-beautiful’ in us may proffer the chance to air some of the staleness of our state. To pose this possibility alongside perhaps some of the undercover, yet ridiculously commonly human ‘space thieves’, such as jealousy, revenge, resentment, neediness, attention seeking, people-pleasing, perfectionism, unworthiness, greed, arrogance, etc., may diffuse and thus help include, all of who we are.

Can we hold both the beautiful and the not-beautiful in ourselves? Can we do so with kindness and compassion? Can we find a way to do so with those of others? Our loved ones? Our families, both natured and nurtured? Our communities? Our societies? Our earth? Our world? Especially and increasingly as the line between sanities gets crossed out and over and under until it seems to be blurred out into confusion and endemic evolutionary steps to who knows where?!

I ask this question, and I like questions, today because it resonates. And because, and I’m aware that you’ll only read this if you’ve made it to the end of this article, (thank you), that I’ve been twitching with a visit from the not-beautiful myself recently. And that’s made me have to dance with the devil, and find resources I wasn’t sure I had, and watch the mind, and take the time to self-care, and to stay with and in an unknown that only trust and faith can hold. And friends. And Grace. And dance. And yoga. And beautiful people with beautiful practices and poems and words that coat me in a prayer as the day glides by. Who knows why and what this is here for, this visitor. Maybe that’s not my business right now. And I am reminded of a poem by Rumi. His making beauty out of the not-beautiful. I’ll leave you with his words:

   ‘This being human is a guesthouse. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, atill, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.’

Thank you for your time and attention.


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