Making Beauty In the World
Six or seven years ago I took up silversmithing for a couple of years as a hobby. I believe my good friend Grace is the owner of the piece above. I may get back to it one day, but it was enormously time-consuming and I've had too much else to do. I flirted with the idea that I might do it as a new career, but the figures would never add up! The materials alone cost more than you could buy ready-made stuff in the shops which brings me nicely to my point....
Sometimes, we just do stuff for the LOVE of it. You may be familiar with the awesome sand paintings which Tibetan Buddhists make as TEMPORARY art. Once it's finished, it's destroyed ceremonially.
These paintings are a meditation on the impermanent nature of all things. Some things are beautiful for a while, and then they pass. Rather poignantly, this is the true nature of life. A nihilistic viewpoint might suggest that's something to be sad about, but to me it means quite the opposite. It means that there are really only a few things in life which actually matter. Money? Yes, but you can't take it with you, and we all know that it doesn't buy happiness (it definitely helps!). Possessions? Well I've got three yachts now and to be honest I'm getting a bit bored lying around in the Caribbean. I mean you've seen one sunset, you've seen 'em all! Status? Great. You're the big man now. Everybody wants a piece of you, and your friends don't know how to relate to you any more. I could go on. So what IS the point then? This is a question I've been asking myself for as long as I could think. The answer changes as we age. From 16-25 (and I hope for a little while beyond occasionally!) it's this: -
Then it's babies, weddings, houses, money, careers, and then as Dylan Moran says "gardening, gardening, gardening....death!" So what do you take with you? Children are of course the ultimate expression of a successful life, and that point is firmly acknowledged. Clearly, it's less about what you "take" and more about what you can "give".
Our situation IS truly strange. There you go...you're alive! "Is there an instruction manual?" "Er....not really....you kind of make it up as you go along". Faced with this dilemma a rational society would sit down and have a conversation about how we might put our situation to best use. My first question would be: -
"How's everyone doing? Do we all have shelter, food, and water?" Next question, "Is everyone feeling okay? - If not, why not? Let's try and make things as comfortable as they can reasonably be. After all we ARE all in this together!" To the great credit of our forebears, beyond the obvious atrocities of war and pillage, these questions have guided civilised society to this point.
It seems obvious to me then that the alleviation of suffering would be a primary focus. Maybe that's obvious to me though because I've suffered in my life. I mean really suffered to the point where I wished desperately for years on end that I'd get taken out by a stray bus. When you've hurt this much in life, you come to appreciate the amount of suffering there is in the World.
The obvious functional response to that recognition is to want to alleviate some of that suffering.
This is tricky. I have learned as a therapist that there is a fine line between helping people and martyring myself. "Should" is a very dangerous word. I feel I "should" do more to help the world, save the seas and the rainforest, donate more, stop using plastic, stand up to injustice, and that used to be a source of huge stress for me. Now I recognise the truth. The truth is "The World's needs outweigh your personal ability to supply".
We can only attend to our own little local slice of reality and make it as lovely as it can be!
So what does all this have to do with sandpaintings and jewellery making? That deeply felt pain of the World needs an antidote. Some will use direct action. If you're built to do it, you'll take your place in the only place you truly belong. You will be driven to do it. Not everyone however is built for that. Sometimes we alleviate suffering massively with the tiniest gestures. A smile. A kind word. A selfless act. Volunteering. Being there when someone needs us. A random act of kindness. This is making beauty.
Others express their heart with ART, with creation. I believe that we are inspired by, and emulate the natural beauty which surrounds us. The beauty within a flower, or a butterfly, or a sparkling ocean against a summer sky touches something deep inside of us. It's PROOF that there IS something GOOD and PURE in the World.
The ugliness around us is largely of our own making, and making beauty for beauty's own sake is our way of voting for good.
When others admire our work, they are validated in their choice to vote for good too. Subconsciously they are reminded that they are not alone.
Every bit of love you make. Every change you initiate for the better in the World. Every beautiful thing you will leave is your vote. It matters! Beauty for beauty's own sake, it turns out, is meaningful after all!