Despite What David Brooks Says, We Can Experience the Deeper, More Spiritual Side of Beauty

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The world-renowned New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, published a piece on Friday that initially depressed me.  In his Op-Ed, “When Beauty Strikes,” Brooks laments our lack of deep appreciation for the spiritual gifts of beauty — an appreciation that dwindled after the end of the era of Humanism.  Brooks writes:

“These days we all like beautiful things.  Everybody approves of art.  But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty.”  He concludes with: “The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived.”

Of course I see his point. There is no doubt that in our current times of hyper-rationalism, we don’t have the same relationship to beauty as we once had.  We see it as something that defines things, like a nice object or people, versus something that stirs our souls.  It is often something we critique.

So is that it?  Should we just cry in our soup?  Can we change this?

I refuse to be deterred by Brooks article.  Not only do I believe we want to have a deeper connection to beauty, I think we are driving towards it more and more every day.

Why do I feel this so strongly?  Thanks to increasing globalization, we are being exposed to world views that challenge the assumptions that come with Western culture.  In Hinduism, for example, beauty is one of the “triad of ideals.”   “Appreciating beauty fully and in the right manner is to experience Brahmananda—the joy of being one with the universal one.” (Source: What When How)

Also, in this digital age, our relationship to beauty and creativity has changed dramatically.  The internet has helped us create, capture and communicate in a much more visual, aural and creative manner than mere words ever can.  We now observe the world differently thanks to our smart phones.  Open up a Facebook page, there’s no question visual communication is far more disruptive and engaging.  And our access to beauty is so much greater!  Look at the picture I used for this post.  This was among thousands that I was able to get my hands on in a matter of seconds.

And with the advent of digital, came the ability to put our creativity to amazing use.  Sure, sometimes we just want to upload something silly.  But the act of developing pictures, creating and editing videos and music, even mashing up others’ clips is not just fun.  It is exciting, mentally engaging and, yes, even spiritual sometimes. What better way to appreciate beauty than when we are creators of it!  No doubt this creative process taps a powerful, spiritual side of us.

Do I agree that our culture often has an unfortunate relationship with beauty?  Hell yes!  But do I think we should be resolved to live with it?  No way.  And the good news is that there are ways to tap the more spiritual side of beauty.  We can seek out the interpretations offered by other cultures, and we can continue to push our own creativity.  We are seeing changes in Western culture thanks to digital, and especially social media, and how these have affected the ways we interact and see our world.  Let’s harness these changes to help us reconnect with beauty in deeper, more powerful and more fulfilling ways.

 

When Beauty Is Right In Front of You

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Sorry folks for being down this past week or so… we had to do some maintenance thanks to all those pesky hackers out there.  But all is good now!

One of the many positive attributes of our digital, mobile and social lives is how we have opened our eyes to the beauty right in front of us thanks to our constant access to technology.  So much for our digital lives are spent capturing, sharing, viewing and engaging in images or photos of everyday things.  We researched this and came up with the term, Fascination with the Familiar, to describe it.  We may marvel at the occasional piece of art.  Yet, if you actually count the minutes of our day spent in the digital world, most of it is not evaluating masterpieces, but, rather the beauty of the everyday.

People may bemoan the advent of the camera phone because of all the seemingly self-indulgent selfie-taking we do.  On the flip side, however, our access to our cameras have made us that much more acutely aware of the beauty — the everyday beauty — around us.  And this everyday beauty reminds us of how special our very own lives and surroundings are.

And here’s another reason to keep our cameras handy: artful manhole covers.  Yep, the Guardian came out with a piece a few days ago of photos of gorgeous, artistic and historic manhole covers from around the world. (See pics below)

I bet these pictures will have us look at manhole covers — hell, our own streets — in a totally new way.

Will we have survived without ever knowing the existence of these pieces of everyday art?  Sure.  But seeing these quiet sources of beauty and imagining the possibilities on our very own streets just makes our world that much brighter.

We may be living behind a camera much more than ever.  And I do value witnessing the beauty around me without the filter of a lens.  But if our reliance on these digital accoutrements allows us to see new sources of beauty every single day, then I think it’s a net gain.

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The Taboo Seen Through New Eyes

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No matter how progressive we all are, women and men alike would rather avoid the topic of  menstruation as much possible.  More than that, we certainly don’t want to take a cold, hard look at our “flow” for long periods of time.

It’s certainly in vogue to think of our periods as something natural and part of the maintenance of our bodies. Then again, our bodies do a lot of “natural” things that we don’t want to examine for their beauty.  And, let’s be honest, so many of us still have not-so-friendly views towards menstruation.  Either we have been influenced by our religious or cultural backgrounds which look at the flow of blood as a sign of death or we just associate menstruation with messiness, crampy-ness and weight gain. Net net, menstruation isn’t something we would place in the bucket of “all-things-beauty.”

But this exhibition has changed that.  Denver-based artist Jen Lewis took pictures of her own blood in a series called Beauty in Blood. She eloquently states: The feminine “hygiene” industry perpetuates taboo thinking by suggesting the monthly cycle is dirty and socially impolite; it should be concealed in frilly pink wrappers like candy and only very loosely referenced with blue liquid in product commercials. In my experience, women and men are hungry for an authentic dialogue about menstruation and all that encompasses. It is clear the time is now to stand up and speak out on behalf of menstruation. It is a natural, messy but beautiful part of life.

Indeed Lewis’s pictures reflect this. We don’t just take our periods for granted, but we shun them. But look at how beautiful they actually are!

I write and speak about this overall concept a lot.  So much of our digital culture today is about bringing to light the beauty of the seemingly everyday, mundane and even ugly. We may bemoan the hours we and others spend glued to our tablets and phones looking at our friends pics.  But remember, so much of that time reflecting on the digital imagery in front of eyes also reveals the physical beauty that we once ignored or viewed as disdainful.

I look forward to seeing how the younger, digitally-savvy generation changes their views of physical beauty for the better and, even more importantly, their views of society — in this case women — as a result.

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What Mesmerizes Us is As Old As Time

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When I gear up to write a post, I sometimes troll the news feed to see what folks are chatting about.  So I did the same thing this time. After the third or so article I happened upon a post of top photos collected over the past weeks.  I wish I could say the photos depicted images of landscapes or amazing feats of nature.  But they didn’t. They were shot after shot of beautiful celebrities courtesy of US Weekly.

Before you groan, please recognize that I’m not proud of this nor did I intend to even focus my attention here.  But once I opened the post and started flipping through the images, I was hooked.  Time flew and before I knew it, it was a half hour later.

What gives?  Why in the world would I waste minute after minute poring through images of beautiful people in gorgeous outfits.  Well, it is award season so maybe that’s what’s catching our attention.

Nah, it’s more than that.

There is something mesmerizing about images, especially images of beautiful people.  Before we admonish ourselves for admiring these shots, let’s forgive ourselves a bit.  You see we are hardwired to not only focus on visual stimuli, but to focus even more on “beautiful” faces.

As someone who spends hour upon hour trying to figure out why and how we engage with all of our digital paraphernalia, one thing is for sure: we are a highly visual culture now.  In fact, we communicate through our visual sense now more than ever.  Think of all the photos, clips and emoji’s we take, upload, download and share EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Of course our digital gadgets make this easier than ever.  But the real reason we are so visual is that we are hardwired to be so.  Our visual sense is one of the oldest and most nuanced…much older than our ability to decode written and oral language.  Remind yourselves of how how babies first learn — through smell, touch and yes, our eyes. Our digital culture has allowed us to return to that state.

Speaking of babies. There are tons of published evidence on babies’ attraction to beautiful faces.  How do we define beautiful faces?  Of course that’s up for debate and not the focus of this post.  But in the most basic way, we are referring to faces with symmetrical features.  So the fact that we can’t get enough pictures of gorgeous people made even more gorgeous thanks to red carpet styles and make-up is, well, understandable.

I’m not advocating that we waste hours reading US Weekly or poring through shots of people with unattainable gowns and coifs.  All I’m saying is that when we do catch ourselves being pulled towards images of beauty, we can now understand why.  And with that understanding we let ourselves indulge a bit and then walk away.

Weekend Observations: #Selfie isn't a reflection of narcissism but brilliance

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I’m huffing and puffing on the elliptical machine and the Chainsmokers#Selfie comes on to my Spotify’s radio channel.  Like the many times I’ve heard it in the past, I get pumped by the beat and the hilarious lyrics.
And then it hits me.  While this song makes fun of the narcissistic, valleygirl-esque attitudes of today’s club girls, it also reflects something wonderful that has happened over the past few years: our deeper appreciation and understanding of the aesthetic.
Remember the line: “Can you guys help me pick a filter? I don’t know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia.”  Sure, the lyrics go on to say, “I want to look tan,” but that’s not the point.  What’s amazing is that the notion of filters and the names of them are part of our everyday vernacular!
When I was this age I never knew a thing about photography let alone the filters we could use.  Technology has opened our eyes and minds to how we can manipulate and create art.  We’re literally seeing differently.  And we’re just getting started.  Recently, I was introduced to a new application bought by Google, The Nik Collection. With it we can turn our everyday pics into extraordinary works of art.  Frankly, it’s a bit too complicated for me to master. But it’s out there for the world to use.
I can’t wait to see how the world becomes that much more appreciative of art. So bring on the selfies, the filters and the club girls — especially if it gets me moving my booty in the gym 😉

Weekend Observations: #Selfie isn’t a reflection of narcissism but brilliance

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I’m huffing and puffing on the elliptical machine and the Chainsmokers#Selfie comes on to my Spotify’s radio channel.  Like the many times I’ve heard it in the past, I get pumped by the beat and the hilarious lyrics.

And then it hits me.  While this song makes fun of the narcissistic, valleygirl-esque attitudes of today’s club girls, it also reflects something wonderful that has happened over the past few years: our deeper appreciation and understanding of the aesthetic.

Remember the line: “Can you guys help me pick a filter? I don’t know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia.”  Sure, the lyrics go on to say, “I want to look tan,” but that’s not the point.  What’s amazing is that the notion of filters and the names of them are part of our everyday vernacular!

When I was this age I never knew a thing about photography let alone the filters we could use.  Technology has opened our eyes and minds to how we can manipulate and create art.  We’re literally seeing differently.  And we’re just getting started.  Recently, I was introduced to a new application bought by Google, The Nik Collection. With it we can turn our everyday pics into extraordinary works of art.  Frankly, it’s a bit too complicated for me to master. But it’s out there for the world to use.

I can’t wait to see how the world becomes that much more appreciative of art. So bring on the selfies, the filters and the club girls — especially if it gets me moving my booty in the gym 😉

Pic of the Week: This Data Fueled Space is Filled With & Inspires Beauty

For a while now I have been purporting how the digital space has made us more aesthetically inclined.  Either because of the tools it offers or the access to amazing imagery, the digital space has helped us become more appreciative of beauty.  Microsoft has picked up on this in their new campaign: “Welcome to a More Beautiful Web.”  What do you think?