I am lucky enough to live in what I consider to be an intensely beautiful landscape. This is especially the case on mornings like this morning, when the sky is blue and the sun shines bright. The hills become honey-coated; the sky is endless.
Beauty is a vitally important part of my relationship with place. If a place is ugly, it is hard for me to get past that in order to begin to form a relationship, a connection. I shrink back from such places. They make me uncomfortable and defensive.
It’s one reason why I find it easier to live in the country than in the city. In the country, the beauty of the place shines in ways that are easy for me to see, easy for me to open to and rest into, easier for me to connect with. Grown rather than built forms – hills, trees, animals, water courses – evoke a yearning in my heart; my soul crying out for its Beloved. The sounds of those forms – trickling, whooshing, bleating, chirping – enable me to sink back and down, deep, into the arms of Life; my mind has no linguistic meaning to latch onto, and releases its hold.
Here is a recording I made this morning out of my bathroom window:
Of course, beauty is subjective, and cities have their beautiful places and aspects, too. My home city, Birmingham, has some of the most spectacular Arts and Crafts architecture in its city centre that you will find anywhere – all you have to do is raise your eyes above street level, above shopfronts and traffic, to see this:
The principles of the Arts and Crafts movement were one of the formative influences on the way I approach the world – on my philosophy, my politics and my spirituality. In fact, William Morris’s dictum still guides me to this day:
“Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
I think of beauty as a particularly Pagan value: not the ‘beauty’ of the cosmetics or fashion industries, of superficial judgements of people, but the fact of how we perceive beauty. Beauty is sensual, it is of the body. I look, I see, and I experience beauty; I listen, I hear, and I experience beauty; I breathe, I smell, and I experience beauty; I touch, I feel, and I experience beauty; I eat, I taste, and I experience beauty.
Beauty is a sensual engagement with the world. While other experiences – such as ugliness, or disgust – are just as sensual, beauty uniquely invites us in, softens our edges, opens us, and thus the experience of beauty creates a new space of connection with our environment, in which we can sink in and surrender and become with.
I invite you to open your senses to the beauty around you today, and allow it to open up paths to connection with your own place.