Some places around the world are breathtakingly beautiful. Most of us must have had an experience of awe as we looked at a famous monument, a known landmark, an iconic view, an original piece of art or a stunning and picturesque landscape. There is no doubt that beauty can inspire, heal and touch the innermost parts of our psyche in the most mysterious and intimate of ways. I ponder some of these thoughts as I roam around the streets of Sydney. People are well dressed, attractive and groomed as if they were about to enter a fashion competition. Their smiles are broad and white, implying a certain carefree attitude. They seem to walk upright, holding their skinny soya lattes in originally designed and dazzling cups. The cafés serve fresh mouth-watering food, presented flawlessly to seduce potential passers-by. I am asking myself whether I discovered the most livable city on Earth, the ‘working man’s paradise’, the Mekka of immigration or the Promised Land of the New World… I know I will dig deeper, until I work out what this is really all about.
I am off to the swimming pool and despite being quite sporty I feel ever so slightly inadequate. Women walk serenely, showing off their impeccably shaped bodies, while over 80% of guys have a six-pack. Everything seems to be perfectly beautiful… or so it seems. I wonder how this society experiences some of the less sexy parts of life, such as grief, trauma, sadness or terror. Beyond the veneer of this intoxicating beauty, I notice that something might be going on. Perhaps this is my jealousy, the fact that I don’t live in this splendid world. I speak to some Australians and they confirm some of my musings. We agree that large, cosmopolitan cities can be unforgiving. The big smoke favours successful, intelligent, educated and worldly professionals between the ages of twenty to forty-five. However, we all know that life can be ugly at times and every city has its shadows. Focusing only on the beautiful, Disney-like side of life can be very dangerous. The moment a spanner is thrown into the works of our day-to-day living, we might end up feeling as less of a person. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a very insightful Jungian writer, extends these ideas in the following words:
“In fairy-tale justice, as in the deep psyche, kindness to that which seems less, is rewarded by good, and refusal to do good for one who is not beautiful, is reviled and punished.
It is the same in the great feeling states such as love. When we enlarge or extend ourselves to touch the not-beautiful, we are rewarded. (…)
What is the not-beautiful? Our own secret hunger to be loved is the not-beautiful. Our disuse and misuse of love is the not- beautiful.” (‘Women who run with the wolves’)
This means that to become a decent human being, we need to touch the ugly side of life, starting with ourselves. We needn’t to be perfect in order to be lovable, we can accept our difficulties, our pain, our disappointments and our failures. Very hard, but real. We can love deeply but truly, by accepting the other, even if they drive us mad. When we don’t get everything we want, it doesn’t mean it’s not true love. Let’s embrace the non-beautiful and accept that sometimes we burp and sometimes we have smelly feet. The more we own our ugly parts, the less they become a menace. Instead, approaching others with an open heart and caring for those not-beautiful folks in society can become an honourable modus operandi. It’s about extending this fleeting feeling of warmth when a stranger looks at you with a smile. You feel seen, just for a second or two. The stranger does not want anything in return. He or she is a silent witness of you in particular moment in time.
On that note, the native Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia have a very special relationship with time. They believe that everything that exists emerged from Dreamtime, from the spirits that created the Earth and the Universe as we know it. The Aborigines are thought to be longest continual living culture as they dwelled in various parts of Australia for more than forty thousand years. They have a deeply intuitive and profound connection with the land, the human spirit and their environment. Aboriginal mythology teaches us to follow dreaming processes, to respect forces of nature and work with them, not against them. We sometimes dream of ugly things, there are evil spirits and evil people who can harm us. The university of life requires us to pay attention to all parts of the world, including the ugly, the cruel and the unwanted. Clarissa Pinkola Estés asks two important follow-up questions:
“What not-beauty do I fear?
Of what use is the power of the not-beautiful to me today?”
If you ask me, I don’t have the answers… Perhaps I have not lived through enough ugly moments to fully own myself. Maybe I am just too lucky to be able to travel the world in a capsule of affluence created by the Western society. What I know, though, is that too much beauty seems to be unsettling as it does not tell the full story of our lives. One of my Australian friends, Kate, says is in her no-nonse pragmatic way:
“We are drinking these perfectly served flat whites and eating sourdough toasts with crushed avocados, but it doesn’t make us any happier.”
If all this beauty doesn’t make people happier, then what does? To me, some of the answers lie in the networks of our tribes, be it family or friends, amongst the people who champion us and who don’t give us permission to be forgotten. And that is the beauty that will accompany you from cradle to grave.