A few days back, I took a new bar of soap from the bathroom cabinet. On the box was written the statement ‘Beauty Bar.’ I smiled, a little wryly, as I took the soap from the box. The words suggest the association that the manufacturer wants me to make between their product and some vague concept of beauty.
We could devote a great deal of time, should we be inclined, to the matter of the continual assaults that the advertising industry makes on our thinking, seeking to make this or that product seem desirable, seeking to convince us that the offered product will help us to become more of what we want to be – or perhaps to delay the time when we cease to be what we perceive ourselves to be.
But I am more interested in this moment in what it is we perceive to be beautiful. A sunset, maybe? A forest panorama in autumn colour? A human body of a particular age, sex, or shape? Much philosophical debate has been expended on the question of whether beauty is objective or subjective. But at the heart of the matter lies the question of what it is that moves us towards something we considered desirable, what captivates the senses when we first perceive it.
I stop writing at this point (which I’m not supposed to do until I finish), lost for something to say.The words do not flow easily, perhaps because I have focused my mind on a philosophical issue rather than letting go, that spirit might flow. That’s a profound lesson in itself and one that I will not deprive you of by destroying this piece before it ever gets near the printed page. It reminds me that I am not here to impress you with how clever a writer I am or how spiritually advanced I am. I do this for one reason only: to illuminate spiritual journeys, both yours and mine. And sometimes on that journey we take a wrong turn that leads to a dead end, or worse. Then there is nothing for it but to back up to the crossroads and take another path.
This morning on the news (yes, I do watch it sometimes) there was a report on the 15,000 amputees that have reached Ukrainian hospitals in the last six months, having lost limbs and more due to the war. The article focused on a young man – in his twenties,I estimated - who had lost most of both arms and been blinded in both eyes, his face horribly scarred. Many seeing him, me included, would have concluded it was something of a blessing that he will never be able to see his own face again. Until, that was, the camera turned to his pretty young wife sat by him, body to body, looking into that disfigured face, declaring that she loved him more now, for his determination, for his indomitable spirit. The article finished with his statement that his greatest sadness was not his personal loss but his inability to finish what he had started for his country.
That young woman saw beauty in her husband’s disfigured face every time she looked at him. No doubt there will be traumas ahead for them as he first regains movement, voice, strength, and as he passes such other milestones as he proves capable of. Then there will be the emotional elements, perhaps including PTSD, as they both come to terms with loss, as they determine where their lives will lead, where they will lead their lives.
I don’t think that young woman will be much concerned with beauty bars for a while now. I don’t think she will be too bothered which soap offers her more chance of achieving an oversold, superficial concept of loveliness.
In Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats declares 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know.' I’ll try to remember that as I go about my day, seeking to strip away the layers of superficiality from my perception and behaviour; not criticising or chastising myself for my failures, my inclination to be too easily deceived by what I am told. But simply panning for gold as it sparkles through the silt, when my eyes are open enough to see it. Nor will I be changing my preferred brand of soap any time soon. It is no bar to my being beautiful.