Spell 21: Shudder Before the Beautiful

Yes, this is a flower. But it’s also a photograph! Photo by JM Watson

In any given day, as you go about your business of life, how often do you recognise the beauty around you? The intoxicating beauty of the process of nature or the fantastic ballet of human life with all its passions and endeavours? In fact, when last did you even do this? If the answer to that question startles you, perhaps you are not listening the the right music. Perhaps you should be listening to the music of this awe.

An Ancient stream of Beauty

The songs opening lines, spoken by Richard Dawkins, start in exactly the right place.

The deepest solace lies in understanding
This ancient unseen stream
A shudder before the beautiful

We’ll get to the solace part later, but this ‘ancient unseen stream’ opens up some vivid imagery. like a wave of synergy through time, this stream of beauty accumulates power and complexity as it weaves its way through time and cosmos alike. Many streams perhaps, colliding, coalescing, creating the very river of being itself. What could be more beautiful than that? This unseen process that we are slowly beginning to understand. And an intrinsic part of that process is us, you and I. Truly it makes me shudder when I pay attention to that.

The Music of the Universe

I am not a physicist but I have been fascinated by the ideas surrounding quantum physics. Whilst there is debate raging in the scientific circles, two ideas seem to be more or less consistent. Particles behave as a wave before measurement and the process of observation is integral to whether its a wave or a particle. At least this is how i understand it. For me this has so much synergy with the world around me. Just like Quantum physics requires there to be an observer to ‘collapse’ the wave function of particles, ideas too need an observer to collapse then into some sort of corporeal form that has an impact on reality.

And just like the Quantum wave states of particles would crash and blend together forming a rich tapestry of energy from which reality coalesces, so too do the Quantum wave states of ideas form a rich tapestry of energy. some of which we can not even begin to fathom as we have no real sense with which to perceive it. But the coalescing of that energy that we can perceive alludes to its depth, it’s beauty. Perhaps even all things, of any description, physical or of the psyche, require some form of consciousness to define them into the real. Who knows but I think it’s beautiful. An infinite tapestry of complexity, unfathomably rich and mysterious, full of wonder, brought into the real by Us.

Observing the sunrise on my way to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, acutely aware of the many synergies coalescing in this moment, awed by the beauty. Photo by JM Watson

For me, the waves are there, the synergy that surrounds me is there. Flowing through time, space and consciousness. Observed like notes in a song, collapsed into reality for a moment of beauty only possible through an understanding of the rhythm, timing and wave of music that proceeds and follows it. Until you decide, it is unclear which defines which, the silence or the sound. In the formation of Arda, it was the music of Iluvatar that was there first, not the silence. Seems like a better way to view the world to me.

The music of this awe
Deep silence between the notes
Deafens me with endless love

Beauty in everything

As I walked in the mountains whilst writing this post, I was constantly in awe of the flowers blooming after the rain. Bold and colourful, some big. some small. All the culmination of an ancient unseen stream of seemingly infinite depth. The foliage converting sunlight into energy. The roots tapping into a rich earth of life and nutrient. The ecosystem that allows it its niche and benefits from it. And all of that is made of stardust. Brought into the real in a stunning display of different forms, different focal points of the same wave, ‘the flower wave’. This endless flow of beauty is all around us. Like the Force from George Lucas’ Star Wars, it brings life and flows through all things. A mycelium like web of connections stretching through time and space. It’s just staggering! And that was just a flower!

Mountains yo, just look at that shit! (and flowers, although you can’t see them in this photo) Photo by Fi Smit

I know, I know, it all sounds rather flowery and hippie’ish. But this act of finding in all things the opportunity to recognise the synergy around us can really make us appreciate the awe and majesty of it all. It seems to cut through suffering and heal schisms of vast differences.

The gift of life

The unknown
The grand show
The choir of the stars
Theatre play
The nebula curtain falls
A species from the Veil
Walks in Wonder
In search of
The source of the tale

That we get to participate in this endlessly complex Interstellar theatre play is truly a Holy Gift. The odds of such a thing happening are so stupendously low. Actually impossible when you think about it. Of every possible combination of matter and time, here you are. Imagine the dice hadn’t fallen your way, perhaps your would be father died in the Gulags or maybe the universe just didn’t quite make it to support life at all. Who knows but its pretty fucking crazy that the unique experience of what its like to be you is occuring right now. Nightwish use the words ‘a species from the veil’, we are born of this ancient interstellar process but can only glimpse it through a veil. Compelled as we are to search for its full beauty.

Awe is the Seed of Love

For me the only response to this seemly endless flow of beauty is love, its endlessness matches that of the beauty. To be awed is where love begins in my mind. I really loved climbing, its seemly endless depth awed me. It was a depth that I would never fully understand, even if I had continued climbing. I would imagine the ancient streams which fed it. The natural processes of the formation of our planet, the erosion of the rocks, being part of the ancient human tradition which allows us to communicate sufficiently to make climbing shoes instead of killing each other. The complexity of the interaction of my body and mind with those ancient streams would often awe me. What followed afterwards was love and gratitude. The same is true of another human, or a dog, or a God. The seed of love is found in that convergence of the waves, where its most intriguing.

I’ve chosen to carry this line from the song with me to remind me to look for the beauty. It reads as an instruction from me to me. Shudder before the beautiful. That act of being humbled, shocked even, by the awesomeness that we are witness too, opens us up to love. To take comfort in that seed of love, to be a part of this awesomeness. And we can do this every day, many times a day, if we remind ourselves to. If you are building a list of spells to help guide you through this chaos, a touch of awe is a solid place to start. Which is why I decided to start here, with the end in mind, with spell 21:

Shudder before the beautiful!

Back to Watsons’ Grimoire

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