“May You Walk in Beauty”
There is a customary blessing in some aboriginal cultures, perhaps the highest blessing, that runs: “May you walk in beauty”, and which probably is the meaning of “the Good Red Road”. And I want to speak to this in regards to a comment with which I left off yesterday’s post — that the “milieu” of the integral consciousness is the milieu of beauty. And this is, I think, what Daniel Kealey is finally leading towards in his quest for a valid ecological ethos in his Revisioning Environmental Ethics. I will also argue that walking in beauty was exactly what Nietzsche was aiming to express as living “beyond good and evil”.
There is, for example, a Navajo prayer I occasionally come across that speaks to the aspiration for integrality,
As I walk, as I walk
The Universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is one every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty.
And in this prayer you see reflected also what don Juan presented to Castaneda as the highest realisation of the warrior’s life, as following the “path with heart”
“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”
In Gebser’s terms, this path is the path of the “diaphanon“, the fully realised integral consciousness, which brings with it “the transparency of the world” or “diaphaneity”.
So, we will speak to this “walking in beauty” as the authentic milieu of the diaphanon. And in this respect I’ll want to relate that to what the Greek philosopher, Plotinus, intended to be understood as “contemplation” as the drawing out of the implicit beauty of reality, and his conviction that truth was realised in beautifulness. Beauty is, in turn, neither subjective fantasy (in the eye of the beholder only) nor an objective “fact”. It is a responsiveness of nature, and reality, to contemplation. And since beauty cannot be located solely in the “eye of the beholder” nor established as objective fact, it is the essence of what we call “spiritual reality”. To walk in beauty is to walk in spiritual reality, which is the “Authentic”.
Contemplation in this sense, is not rationality or rationalising mentation, but more closely corresponds to what we call “appreciation”. Appreciation is seldom used today to describe a mode of contemplation except perhaps in the phrase “art appreciation”, which is more contemplative than analytical or critical. Appreciation also has the more explicit sense of “gratitude”, and so is a “gracious” mode of attention or of thinking. Gratitude, graciousness, and walking in beauty, or traversing the “path with heart”, are conjoined in the contemplative or appreciative.
It is this kind of grateful and gracious thinking that Nietzsche calls “noble” — the appreciative. And against this kind of thinking as noble, he contrasts the “ignoble”, or ressentiment which he equates pretty much with “herd mentality” or “slave mentality” — ungracious, ungrateful, unappreciative. And he finds the root of this mentality lies in the merely moral interpretation of the world and nature. There is a great deal of truth in this. And it’s another one of the ironies of the “Little Pastor”, as Nietzsche was described in his youth, that he has support for this view in the Book of Genesis, where the “Fall of Man” from the Garden of Eden resulted from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Before the moral interpretation of the world represented by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve walked in beauty, which, in Gebserian terms, would be closely associated with the “wholeness” of the archaic structure of consciousness. The moral interpretation of reality induced the explusion. It was the first act of vivisection, as it were, dividing Being in two and against itself, sundering the primal condition of wholeness, eventually leading to oppositional dualisms of good-evil, subject-object, culture-nature, spirit-matter, ego-it, private-public, and so on and so forth. Aboriginal cultures, for the most part, have no such conception of reality. There aren’t any words for “culture” and “nature” or subject and object, for example. This mode of awareness or intellection is primarily contemplative/appreciative and aesthetic rather than moralistic — the ideal is to walk in beauty, and to walk in beauty is to walk in harmony with all. As ideal, though, it was something to be realised rather than something that existed, for reality was often at odds with the ideal of beauty. We don’t want to overly romanticise aboriginal life and culture. Walking in beauty was elusive, which is why you prayed for it, and wished it upon others. While we might say “peace be unto you” precisely because peace also is elusive, and precisely because we are not overflowing with peacefulness and peaceableness — in fact, just the opposite.
Nietzsche’s elevation of “gratitude” as the noble mode of thinking (against ressentiment) is not moralistic but aesthetic, as it is for William Blake. Blake was no moralist. Beauty was his criterion for what was true and just, and the destruction of the beautiful by the “dark Satanic mills” — and the mentality that conceived of them — was the great sin.
I’ll return to this in terms of the alleged contradiction between “beauty” and “science” (or “truth”) that was interpreted as “the two cultures” by C.P. Snow, as a false dualism, something central to Gebser’s thinking about integral consciousness.