My daughter had an interesting way with ‘beauty’ when she was younger. “What is your beauty?” she would ask. The meaning, I eventually realized, was more in line with our conventional use of the word ‘talent’. “Helping is her beauty,” she once observed. The person is good, in other words, at assisting others.
Older now, my daughter no longer employs the term in this fashion. It has, in fact, been several years since I last heard her speak this way. In the privacy of my own thoughts, though, I often remember her usage as both striking and apt.
My dictionary defines ‘beauty’ as “the pleasing or attractive qualities of something.” ‘Talent’, on the other hand, is defined as a “natural aptitude or skill.” Of these two, the former feels to more accurately capture the experience under consideration. ‘Talent’, as described here, seems clinical, distant. ‘Beauty’, on the other hand, is close enough to touch — and another’s gift, when revealed, does have a pleasing, attractive character.
Think of the last time you witnessed someone unique in their ability to run or sing, work with children or hammer nails. The experience is, more often than not, gripping. It draws us in, compels us to keep watching. We are attracted and it is pleasing, beautiful.
Having worked with others most of my life, I have come to the conclusion that all of us have such beauty within. Each of us has gifts woven into the fabric of who we are. Through decades of teaching meditation — and before this, coaching competitive swimming — I have seen people again and again give expression to something attractive and pleasing to those around them.
I recently completed a month-long meditation retreat. Taxed by the demands of this experience, people were exhausted, wrung out, worn down. There were a lot of tears and other outbursts. “I no longer know myself,” one young man confessed during an evening meeting. The way he shared his dismay was so naked; it was difficult not to be moved. “I was awed by your honesty,” someone commented. “I felt like a mess,” he countered.
This is one of the curious things about beauty. It rarely arises on demand, rarely aligns with our ideas and expectations about ourselves. It often seems beauty cannot be contained or defined by what we think, want, or hope for. Concepts tend to limit in a black and white way; beauty requires the freedom and possibility of a multi-colored palette. Our sense of self, our ideas of who we are, then, must be loosened if our gifts are to find expression. And this is one of the marks of spiritual practice: it undoes ‘me’ enough that beauty can begin to shine through.
So how do we find our beauty? The answer to this question sounds so simple, though the reality is extremely challenging. Rather than looking for it, we find our beauty by doing the work. Whatever this means to us — meditation, yoga, prayer, art, dance, parenting — we do the work and allow ourselves to be undone by the process. And as we unravel toward a place of complete uncertainty (“I no longer know myself,” that fellow offered), we pay attention. Within this uncertainty something will arise. It will not be anything we expect and it will not come on demand, but it will arise. And it will be so beautiful we will not be able to take our eyes off it.
Neil McKinlay is an author, meditation teacher, personal coach, and intuitive healer in Victoria, BC. Trained in the tradition of Chogyam Trungpa, he encourages others to make the most of the path that is their life.