You Are the Sky: On Seeing Our Own Beauty

10690274_10152951853886874_8868274105579110552_nI don’t love this picture of myself. It reminds me of how I used to cry the night before school pictures in first or second grade. I’d practice a smile in the mirror, trying to get it right.

I’m sharing it, because it has me thinking about the mysterious abyss between how we see ourselves and how those who love us–or don’t even know us–see us. And about why a photo where I look so much like the child I was would seem anything but beautiful.

Sometimes, I’ll be a hot, hormonal mess of tears and snot, seized by the kind of cry that comes on maybe once every few months that feels at the time like I’ve made no progress at all, then afterwards is like the storm that has cleared out the debris and left the river clean.

And from the shore, she will tell me how beautiful I am.

And I’ll think, really?

Then I remember, love is this unfathomable container where vulnerability and beauty intermingle. Where we can fall to face the hardest things within ourselves that still call from the depths for attention, tethered now as we are to something solid as the arms of another whose hold is spacious enough to let us wander into places long locked away, without fear of getting lost there.

It is brave work, to confront our own limitations and ways of reacting to others, which of course is really a reaction to something unresolved or yet-to-be-loved in ourselves. To truly sit with difficult questions, answerable only through the choice to stay present.

Who are we inherently? How much do we choose? And where do we simply surrender, to love the whole, hot mess and the beauty in the breakdown and the process of becoming? Who are we now, and who are we intended to be?

In “Honey From the Rock,” Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

When you first fell in love, confessed to each other that this romance must now build a home, there was a moment when you understood that the intention was not yours alone. There was a moment when to say anything less than that “since the creation of the universe it was written that this woman and this [woman] would stand under this tree and agree to build a home together” — would be blasphemy. That which the old ones call in Yiddish Ba’shert “meant to be,” is not a lessening of one’s “freedom,” but rather when encountered personally, a heightened freedom. A rising to one’s destiny. And what has before seemed free now, seems shadowed momentarily in unawareness. And this is true of moments of ascent. We understand there is a kind of freedom and moral responsibility that goes beyond everyday illusions of free will which is called doing what you are intended to do. Of course one can evade this. But not forever. Sooner or later, in one lifetime or another, each soul must accomplish its intended task.

To be seen at the end of a day at work, un-made-up (for the record, I’m never made-up), serious, quietly listening to some playlist that makes me feel all poetic and cinematographic, seeing in my head a vivid scene in the movie of life as I do my best to fold the fitted sheets and put away her underwear in the color-coded ways that set her world right.

To be seen in the light of the bedroom with the yellow walls, as I pull down the shades for the night and she has her camera out and is looking at me almost tearfully, as if I’m the most beautiful things she has ever laid eyes on.

I say it’s a mystery, because I can’t explain it nor does it need explanation. I take her word for it. Then I look at the image she has captured of my likeness and the caption she has written alongside: Every day, she blows my mind. 

“Each soul must accomplish its intended task.”

I slip, just for a moment, into deeply grooved thought: I’ve done nothing particularly mind-blowing today. But then I stop. It’s nonsense, and I know it.

Our days are not a proving ground and our beauty is not something to stage or filter. It’s not about good-hair days or the best light or the luck of the draw or the eyes of the beholder or what only a mother could love. It just is–whether we ourselves see it or not.

Our work is to keep our eyes open, to be mirrors to each other, until we become our own beholders, pensive or euphoric, buoyant or drawn. Smiling like an awkward six-year-old or with eyes as deep as the sky is timeless.

As Pema Chödrön writes: You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. 

5 thoughts on “You Are the Sky: On Seeing Our Own Beauty

  1. Pamela says:

    I use this quote of Pemas often in my yoga class. What you have written is such a beautiful rendering of this sentence translated into real life. I am so glad you each have the other. Thank you for writing about this true love.

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