An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 1, 2012
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

THREE WAYS TO SEE BEAUTY

During these short days and long nights, since I tend to go to sleep not long after sundown, each morning I awaken well before sunrise with plenty of time for thinking. This week during one predawn thinking time inside the mosquito net I thought about esthetics. The subject is important to me because after rejecting so many of the usual reasons for staying alive, looking forward to a day's beautiful moments still strikes me as reason enough to get up and live another day.

The thinking period began with the observation that a person's opinion about what's beautiful depends on his or her sense of esthetics. Further, it seems that in my life I started out with one sense of esthetics, developed a second one, and now am glimpsing yet a third.

As a child I rejoiced in bright colors, sparkling light, boom-boom music, sharp flavors... Things with those attributes were beautiful to me. I was simply hungry to have all my senses stirred up and titillated.

As a young adult my perspective about what was beautiful shifted, mainly in reaction to what I had become by overindulging my childhood senses -- a very fat, mediocre, undisciplined young person dissatisfied with my body and mind. My new sense of esthetics was grounded in college experiences with oriental philosophy, literature, and classical music -- which I studied and experienced on my own, despite my classwork.

What a delight to know the exquisiteness of a single golden chrysanthemum in a simple blue vase on a low table in the center of a small, bare room. Lush, symphonic orchestration was good but, somehow, little fugues and string quartets were even more powerful. I saw and felt most deeply during extended fasts.

Eventually I began following a kind of esthetic Middle Path, my third esthetic perspective. Nowadays mostly I experience the world from the second, fugish, domain of clarity and simplicity, but sometimes I make symphonic forays into lushness and abstraction, just for the heck of it.

That third esthetic perspective, though providing transfixing glimpses of beauty, I can experience only rarely, for visiting it requires focus, tranquility and openness of a kind the world seldom affords. The most salient feature of the third esthetic perspective is that from it everything... everything... turns out to be beautiful.

For, in this third domain it's the Yin-Yang principle again, where every knowable thing is married to its opposite, and can't exist without it. No hot without cold, no life without death, no pleasure without pain. If something discomfits the mind, spirit or body it's because it's the necessary negative side of something we imagine to be positive, and that whole system of opposites is beautiful.

The esthetic buzz, the sense of beauty, arises in glimpsing the whole Yin-Yang system evolving forward, blossoming ever new diversity, forever engendering new ways to be beautiful.