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The Ugliness of Beauty


“I love the world!"

I look over my shoulder at Skye with a sideways glance. She's holding a glass of wine and talking to a friend as they look out on the stunning autumn sunset.

"You didn't just say what I think you said, did you?" I ask.

"I said, 'I love the world.'" She replies with a purposeful innocence.

"That's what I thought I heard." I shake my head, knowing how far from the truth that statement actually is. "No Skye, you love half the world--specifically the half that conforms to your idea of how it should be."

Trapped I am, standing on a sprawling beachside deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. I'd been invited to teach as part of a brand-named yoga seminar and the hosts decided to throw a gaudy reception for participants and friends on the last night. Nice idea, but I now find myself surrounded by beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes drinking expensive wine and mingling, lots of mingling. It's easy to pick out the professional yoga types; they're either decked out in $500 designer label yoga outfits or draped with flowing fabric and enough beads to open a small jewelry store in Venice Beach. Skye is a designer label type, no beads.

I realize this is likely a situation that most people would relish--a stunning view, free food, and interesting people--yet it gives me a mild case of the heebie-jeebies. Generally speaking, I don't like parties, I'm not a fan of forced interaction, and I abhor small talk (not so much because there is anything wrong with it, it's just that I'm bad at it--like really, really bad; terrible, in fact). For me, it's always the same, feigning interest while lobbing prepackaged questions at a stranger who then feigns a similar level of interest and lobs something back my way. Meaningless questions followed by meaningless answers punctuated by awkward silences. Not my bag.

A friend and fellow teacher dragged me here with an intention of saving me from the T.V. in my hotel room, though I really didn't need saving: I like T.V. and I like my hotel room. Yet I agreed to come, so here I am, leaning up against the railing of the deck with the waves crashing into the rocky shore a hundred feet below. The good news is that the hosts obviously have a lot of money to throw around, so I find myself nursing a martini and chomping down gourmet appetizers as I drink in the splendor of the seascape. It's here that I overhear Skye's conversation and sense an opportunity for an interchange that could involve something a bit more interesting than idle chit-chat.

"No, I love the world, I really do." Skye continues as she motions toward the horizon, "All of it. Look around: the sun is setting in spectacular explosion of orange and crimson, we're in the company of dear friends, the appetizers are delicious…" She strolls over and steals a bit of cheese from my plate and pops it into her mouth.

I again shake my head.

"What?"

"Weren't you just last night ranting on about how the clerk at the DMV was rude, unhelpful, and never even made eye contact with you?

"Yes, but…"

"And weren't you this morning complaining how Wal-Mart was leading the charge in turning Christmas into nothing more than an exercise in orgiastic consumerism?

"Yes, but…"

"And didn't you spend a good half hour detailing all of the failings and short-comings of the yoga teacher you took a class with last week?

"Yes, but…"

"Well, I'm not certain of the address of that DMV office, precisely which Wal-Mart you're irritated with, or where you took that yoga class, but I'd bet my bottom dollar that they're all on earth, I mean, they're all part of the world, aren't they?"

"Yes, but…"

"So where's the love for that, Yo?" I ask, cocking my head to the side and thrusting my hands over my heart in my best rapper imitation (just call me DJ Jazzy Vanilla E).

Skye is an interesting girl. Over the past week, I've gotten to know her pretty well. We were introduced because someone thought we'd hit it off, having similar interests and all. Unfortunately, I'm interested in Truth; she's interested in spirituality. And in this case they're as far apart as heaven and hell--quite literally.

She's a transplant. Moved to California from some non-descript town, in some non-descript state, somewhere in the middle of the country where a mound of fill-dirt passes for a mountain. She's young, vivacious, and well-intentioned and likes to call herself a yoga teacher. Unfortunately, she's spent too much time sitting at the feet of spiritual teachers encouraging good over bad, right over wrong, and preaching love and acceptance while spewing all manner of condemnations at anyone or anything that doesn't fit their idea of spirituality. As a result, she's come away with a mean case of the spiritual creeping crud--a highly contagious disease carried by spiritual hacks who cause conflict and judgment in the name of transcending conflict and judgment. It's a fabulous ruse.

"Why should I love an incompetent clerk at the DMV?" she asks. "Or get behind Wal-Mart, or shoddy yoga instruction for that matter?"

"It's not really a question of should, Skye," I say, "I'm just reacting to your declaration of love for the world. It just rings a little false given your litany of complaints about people and events."

"Okay, fair enough," she says, "maybe I don't love the whole world. I just appreciate beauty when I see it."

"When you can see it." I add.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I'm going to suggest that what you call beauty isn't beauty at all. But rather it's simply a commentary on your personal opinions." I say, "There's a difference between what you are calling beauty and true Beauty--Beauty with a capital 'B'. When you are appreciating the beauty in some things and ignoring the Beauty in every thing, you're really engaged in a process of judgment, not appreciation."

"So you're saying that my admiration of this majestic panorama" she gestures toward the sunset with her near-empty wine glass, "you're saying that's judgment, not appreciation?"

"I'm saying it's more judgmental than appreciative. What you're appreciating is the fact that this moment has confo