Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.—Mark Twain
I awaken from my first full night of sleep in weeks. Lemony sun shines in the window, and when I stand I feel a hint of the life force that faded during my two-week illness. In my spiritual practice my body fills with luminosity, a lightness of being that is pure freedom.
But afterward, when I look in the mirror, I see the toll of these weeks. Blue shadows hang below my eyes and a mustard tint masks my skin.
Normally I would shrug this off, but today it matters. In just a few hours I am to sit in front of a video camera to give a testimonial for my dentist.
I call on my Beloved and remember that I am soul.
It is no big deal, I tell myself as I apply powder to my cheeks. I smooth away the blotchy patches. I conceal the shadows under my eyes. With a mascara wand I take extra strokes, as do I with my lipstick. I even dig through the back of my closet to find a curling iron to add life to my limp hair.
The videographer, who is one of my closest friends, encourages me through the session. “You look fabulous!” she says. I happily voice praise of my dentist and friend of 20 years, Dr. Richard Parker. It’s a wrap. The videographer packs up her camera and heads out, while I go on with my day.
The next afternoon I receive a link to a rough cut of the video. When my testimonial comes on, I gasp. I look like a faded waif, pale, with too much lipstick and eye makeup. The lighting is so bright it melds me into the yellow wall behind. I take a breath and recognize my vanity.
It’s fine, I tell myself. No problem. I send a congratulations email to the videographer.
But over the next few hours my mind will not let it go. It’s as though Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard has occupied my insides and keeps calling for a new close-up.
I take a walk and with each step call on my Beloved. I talk to my vanity in an attempt to get it to stand down. I recognize that I am more than this physical body, and yet I can’t let the issue go. To compound it, I have heard my friend discuss her challenges with shooting baby boomers over the years, who often scorn their video appearance. I don’t want to be like them.
It’s the lighting that’s the problem, I determine. When I arrive home I send an email to the videographer saying the light was too bright—it blazed out the mid-tones. We have to reshoot.
I receive an immediate reply. She is pleased with the outcome—no reshoot necessary. Her message carries the same cutting vibe as did the one I sent. Of course, we always get back what we give.
I’m infuriated with her reply. “Can’t she see?” I ask my cat.
I pace my kitchen. By now night has settled in. I suspect my sleep is in jeopardy, and with it my fragile remission from my recent health challenge. Worse yet, my dear friend is now upset with me, and I with her.
My mother calls, and after hearing my dilemma, suggests an impasse. I follow her counsel. With what little humility I can muster I email my friend. I tell her I love her, admit that I’m sorting through this and ask her to simply hold until I’m clear.
I sleep a few hours and awaken, my limbs restless. So I rise at midnight and ask the Beloved to guide me. With that loving presence at my side, I sweep the floor, prune the geraniums and clean a linen closet. While I do this, shards of illusion present themselves. I see how much I have relied on my appearance in order to secure love, from my family, in relationships and in my work as a journalist.
I recognize that the love is within me, not something that comes from without. I return to bed to sleep a few more hours.
I awaken with an odd peace. During my spiritual practice more truth ignites. Maybe it’s okay that I care how I look in the video. Maybe it’s fine that I’m vain. My physical appearance, my vanity, these are only small spokes on the great wheel of who I am. I can accept and love those parts.
I go to my computer and tentatively open an email from my friend the videographer.
“Lesley,” she writes.” Let’s do a reshoot, whenever you’re feeling better. I am in no hurry.”
My heart settles.
The reshoot will come, and likely I won’t be thrilled with my 50-something appearance. But maybe I’ll look a little healthier. Most of all, I will know that I am not this physical body, nor am I this vanity. Instead I am the very life force itself, on a great journey through eternity.
I am pure beauty in spirit.
I am soul.
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Our bondage to the body is no joke! As a performer I must take stock of my appearance before others, too. My vanity is before me every single day, many times in a day! “What am I doing?”…”why do I want others to like my music”…”why am I seeking recognition and approval from the masses?”….these are just some of the questions which I ponder in the evenings as I review my day. The sense of “I” (ego) has been with us all for a very long time. In America, ego is mesmerized and encouraged with vanity from the media, from friends, from parents, etc. True reliance on Spirit or God is nowhere to be found. All are following the constant beat of desire and egotism. As a spiritual student attempting to “surrender” my entire life, my desires and my attachments, I absolutely know that the resistance to such a proposition is indomitable. This is my conclusion and I stand on it. I am in deep water without the Pardon and Blessings of the Sat Guru, Who is all Mercy and Love. He alone understands the depths of egotism and vanity. He alone has the ability and competence to extract our True Identity (Soul) from the quicksand of arrogance. Lesley, your post is profound. Let us all remember that our own lower worlds are naught but Vanity…let it be so. We cannot change that which is “fixed” and “finished”. Internally, Soul rejoices when the vain ego takes a hit, for at that moment Soul’s energy is being released from its stuck position. I might add that when true purification is gifted us, IT NEVER FEELS GOOD!
Al, your comment is packed with so much wisdom I hardly know where to begin responding. In many ways your profession and mine are very similar, both of us singing the Beloved’s song publicly, which is an invitation for Vanity to join in the chorus. Whenever it starts drowning out my song, I know I need to recenter and come to once again see that I have nothing to “get” from anyone or anything, and only to “give.” Thank you, dear soul. You are gorgeous, inside and out.
Lesley, you so impeccably describe the day-to-day challenge of living and evolving through the pieces of our composite beingness! Thank you sincerely for your honesty and humility in writing this piece…. this much needed viewpoint.
Janet, thank you for your kind words. It is such a joy to me to flow the love through these essays. Best of all, the process always brings in deeper understanding for me. We are blessed by your presence here.
One more BEAUTIFUL piece of your intelligent work, Lesley … very proud of you.
We know that body, mind, and intellect are just the instruments bestowed upon us by the Almighty so we can sustain life’s challenges, but this trio gets so attached with materialistic things that we become one with those things. The imperishable soul is laughing at this ignorant attitude and thinking “how can I explain this person that they are running behind the mirage?”. The reality is “Aham Brahmasmi” – “I” am the eternal truth.
Rajiv, I so appreciate the playful way you view this–the idea that soul is laughing and looking for a way to present the truth within this “mirage.” I am coming to see that when one of the passions presents itself, it is because the Beloved current has big plans for me and wants me to listen closely. I do my best to stay still as the truth comes through, and once it does, love pours in. That mirage becomes an ocean of understanding. Thank you for joining in the conversation.
What a work of art you present here! I have often wondered what the line is between vanity and self respect. You brilliantly describe that there is no line, really. It is all part of a bigger picture, no more or less than other parts of the painting, when looked at with proper perspective.
And your conclusion is correct: your radiance and beauty is in your life force — the courage and openness of your heart, and the effervescence of the love you project. Oh, and in your lovely face. Let’s not forget that. :o)
Thank you, Rudy, for your kind words. What a great metaphor you present with the painting. Truly all the parts of the painting are crucial to making the whole radiate the beauty that it does. And you, too, dear friend radiate great beauty upon us all.
Once again your fearless courage takes center stage. So much letting go in the process of Soul emancipation. Thank you for this window into your process dear one. It is always such a treat to see the reflections of our own journey mirrored in yours.
Deborah, I so enjoyed hearing your giggly laugh this weekend and seeing your shining face. I’m happy to make this journey with you, to watch your courage as you expand into your new life. Truly, as you say, our journeys do mirror each other’s, and yours gives me great courage.
From where I sit you look pretty damn good inside and out.
Thank you, John. Sending that same kindness back to you.
Lesley, thanks for reminding me that we are all star-bright beautiful, although mirror and camera cannot absorb nor project the immensity of that beauty.
On an ordinary day as I walk to my car from work, I sense myself as the 30- something I usually feel myself to be, even as my 63rd birthday approaches and my bunion aches. I think of my mother who complained of pain since her mid-70s, who even in her last days in her early 90’s anticipated more life, more visits, more travel, more volunteer work, seeing her great grandchildren grow, and how she graciously accepted “no one lives forever.” I realized that she always internally perceived herself as I now sense myself, young, in spite of age and condition. She also seemed to know the camera wasn’t true and to our amusement avoided it as much as possible.
I think of my dad who shortly before he died at 92 was surprised that he’d grown “so old and weak,” since he didn’t see himself that way either.
In terms of age and aging, it seems we all mostly identify as Soul, eternal, forever young. What the physical world reflects, even as we experience it in our own bodies, in photos and videos, is its own limited reality, the narrow confines of or our physical, mental, emotional, karmic worlds. They are all interesting places to visit, but are not where we really live and have our being.
May we all forgive our finite selves and ascend into our boundless starlight being unconcerned with all else.
Sheila, that last line of yours is worth repeating: “May we all forgive our finite selves and ascend into our boundless starlight being unconcerned with all else.” Truly that is the goal of life, and how blessed we are to have all taken from us here in the material world, especially our strength and beauty. How else would we come to know how spectacular we are? Thank you!
Thank you Lesley. What a beautiful reminder.
Many things resonated with me in what you wrote.
First, that those of us in the Baby Boomer generation are increasingly confronting our mortality, our aging, our physical changes. More often these days, we look in the mirror and are distressed by what we see. Yet what is happening to our bodies now is as true as it was, say, during puberty and adolescence, when we were more likely find pleasure in the changes wrought by nature. Your writing was a reminder that we can’s pick and choose our immutable truths.
Second, I was impressed by how you laid yourself bare with your eloquent words of self-disclosure. This level of honesty takes courage and gumption. This is a fundamental reason for my being drawn to your blog entries. Don’t stop, please.
Thank you, Richard, what an interesting observation about the changes of our adolescence mirroring what we Baby Boomers are going through today. The very pleasure we received from these physical bodies one upon a time must be met with equal pain in their demise. That is the way of the lower worlds.
I must admit I was apprehensive about posting this because of the very self-disclosure you mention. The kind reception by you and others has made it completely worth the risk. So thank you for that too.
I loved it and had a good laugh in sympathy! I understand your dilemma. I love sharing your inner adventure, fellow soul.
Sonja, I’m happy you laughed. I did too when that Norma Desmond bit came in. What else can we do but laugh at the folly of believing the material world is real? Thank you for your presence here.
Lesley, I as opened the link to your post I begin to slowly read with the intent to contemplate the truth within your writings. From the start I was taken yet again, on a journey in consciousness, one in which I could relate to exactly as you had! Vanity is a powerful passion of the mind and the 50’s have been tough on me physically as I try to hold onto my own vanity and deal with the ravages of time to the physical body! As my sojourn of soul continues I am realizing that this is all an illusion because I am Soul, not this body and that is such a powerful realization! I so loved that movie by Norma Desmond which depicts so well this holding onto physical beauty and the pain that that can cause our being! All you write and channel is so applicable to our own journeys that I always look forward to your next post and the wisdom that I know will be channeled from the Divine! Thank you!
Michael, I know you, like me, have led a life where your physical strength was very important. Letting go of that in whatever degree we are called upon to do so, along with what beauty comes with youth, is a huge teaching. As you say, truly it is all illusion. The more I come to know this, the more I can imbibe in the true Divine essence that is pure beauty and love. Thank you for your kind comment.
Can’t she see, I asked my cat.
That did it for me – I laughed like a drain! Its perfect.
Thank you, Liz. Knowing this made you laugh brings a HUGE smile to my face. What better way to make our way through life than to keep on laughing, especially at ourselves.