Beauty as Medicine
The book I've been reading the last week or so, in between other books that need reading, is by Piero Ferrucci: Beauty and the Soul: The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life.
Ferrucci lives near Florence, Italy, and is a psychotherapist and philosopher, so seems quite well situated to write about beauty. He takes up the arguments against beauty: it's seen as useless, futile, frivolous. Often we don't interact with the beautiful because we're too busy, or we feel we need to be well-educated to appreciate it. Some people have trouble surrendering to beauty, lowering their defences because they might feel too deeply. In short, there is a resistance to beauty. But Ferrucci makes a wonderful case for the need to develop our aesthetic intelligence which he says is "where and how well we are able to perceive beauty. It is a capacity akin to tuning in." Those who work to expand their aesthetic range "allow themselves to be moved, can embrace new ideas and perspectives, can marvel, and are ready to learn. they live in a much richer world."
Ferrucci goes on to say that "Our aesthetic range can in turn influence our relationships. Those with a vaster aesthetic range will have a greater capacity to understand others and adapt to their way of thinking."
He asks, "Can we expand our aesthetic range, or are we stuck with what we have?" He believes that we can and suggests keeping a diary to "exercise our aesthetic intelligence," which I think is a wonderful idea.
He says: "In a notebook, jot down big and small aesthetic experiences; describe not only your experience, but also its effects, immediate and delayed, its deeper ramifications in your personality, the changes of perspective and the echoes in your mind that the experience produces. Journaling in this way activates our aesthetic awareness and creates an aesthetic filed, an inner space where beauty is not just a possible encounter, but a close friend."
I know in this I'm recommending the technique to those possibly already keeping a beauty journal. Instagram, I think, can be a form of beauty journaling. It's a reminder that beauty is everywhere, that beauty continues no matter what, that beauty is available to everyone.
The book is full of anecdotes and stories, examples of how beauty is healing. The author notes that "Beauty has the power to unravel the knots of our feelings, to show us the way back to ourselves, to heal our wounds." Is it the perfect medicine? Ferrucci says that "Rather than lowering our consciousness, as so many treatments do, it lifts us above our problems. Beauty has no side effects, its benefits last, the relief it brings does not dull or diminish us in any way, it creates no dependency, and it actually makes us feel clearer and stronger."
I think we all know that beauty is good medicine, and also that at times we feel resistant to it. Compared to the news of the day, which has the ability to just knock us over and fill us with shock and pain, beauty might indeed seem frivolous. I was grateful for the recent essay by Sharon Salzberg on probably my favourite web place, On Being. She says,
"Yes, actions are important; they are absolutely essential, in fact. But I don’t believe we can survive for long in a state of constant agitation. Our bodies and hearts need rest to replenish stores of energy. This is something best done from a place of love."
You can read all of Sharon Salberg's thoughts here. Highly recommended.
So, go, replenish your stores, chronicle beauty in your immediate vicinity. What do you see? Spend some time contemplating your favourite bowl or teacup. One thing that I find restorative is to look at fall leaves. The beauty in the threadbare ones, the ones hanging on dearly and tenaciously. Look at the way the light enters them at this time of year. Watch them twirl and fall.
Beauty is good medicine. And as Piero Ferrucci says, you don't even need a prescription.