Those who are clear enough within themselves to be drawn by that beauty of the natural harmony will inevitably see and appreciate yours. There is no need for cosmetics or any other tricks of artifice.
The 22nd hexagram of the I Ching explores this theme of beauty in a set of poems going under a title that is usually translated as “Grace.”
Now this is a word with diverse associations in the West, so we had better start by explaining what the I Ching does not mean by grace. It is certainly not some divine intervention or endorsement (“amazing” or otherwise) from an external boss-god. Instead, the Chinese thought of grace as a principle of Nature. Thus, grace underlies many of the ideas and practices of the well-known (and frequently distorted) Chinese environmental art of Feng Shui.
In Feng Shui, grace is balance, stability, natural order, and perhaps above all else, freedom from excess, from clutter. You see these principles in living environments to this day throughout the East. Japan “imported” Feng Shui from China as much or more than it did Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism.
The I Ching and Feng Shui were simultaneously inspired by and associated with Taoism (which left its own philosophical imprint on what was to become Zen). Hexagram 22 teaches that the way to grace is defined by illumination (the symbol of Li, the lower three-line figure or trigram), and stillness (the symbol of Ken, the upper trigram). As the lower trigram is the “inner” trigram of personal truth, while the upper is the “outer” trigram of interaction with the world, it is easy to see and feel the message contained in this single image. Grace is illumination from within, amid stillness and serenity without. True beauty has no other way of being. This, incidentally, is what another poet, Keats meant by his famous equation: “beauty is truth, truth beauty…”
Now the point where most Westerners stop the music with Feng Shui is, paradoxically, at its very essence, which is also the essence of the I Ching and of Taoism (and in fact of most Buddhism). Consciousness: the ubiquity and universality of consciousness. The Western mind can’t go there: we believe that there are living things and dead or inert things; and those “dead things” simply lack consciousness.
But think again: haven’t you developed a living relationship with a car, a favorite dress, a house? That’s Feng Shui. I have heard interviews with people who have lost their homes to a disaster — earthquake, flood, tornado, hurricane, fire, etc. — and I have noted how often they look into the rubble and say something like, “it’s like losing a family member…”
Yes, it is, fairly exactly in fact. Environment is consciousness. Not “environment has consciousness”, in the sense of connections and projections of the humans living in that environment — that is of course part of it, but not the origin, not the essence. If you are going to understand Feng Shui and its philosophical companions of natural insight — the I Ching, Lao Tzu’s and Chuang Tzu’s Tao, the scientific and medical texts that gave us acupuncture — you need to suspend disbelief in a single idea, that all is consciousness.
I’ve mentioned this before: there is no need to believe in the principle that all things are consciousness. Just hang your disbelief out to dry — you can always pick it up later, nice and fresh. Experience, to the extent that you open yourself to it, will become your friend. It happens for me all the time now. The other day I went to see a new doctor who was both East and West in his practice: a D.O. who is also an acupuncturist. He performed the most detailed, thorough, and expert physical exam I’ve had in at least 20 years; ran an EKG which he read with precision; and otherwise showed every sign of being completely adept at the diagnostic practice of Western medicine.
Then he caught me by surprise. I had forgotten the other half of his work, as methodical and technical as his initial workup was. As I lay back after the EKG, I felt a firm, focused energy flowing into my upper abdomen. As I lifted my head to see what was going on there, I saw his hands, about two or three inches above my solar plexus; and then he spoke: “you have a blockage of chi here…” Then he moved his hands further down, above my belly button, and I felt another sensation of being penetrated by a warm, pointed energy wave: “…and here, too.”
The existence of chi is generally viewed with something ranging from ridicule to contempt by Western medical science. This is only regrettable insofar as it makes professionals like my doctor much rarer than they ought to be (and acupuncture much more expensive than it ought to be, since most insurance companies won’t cover it). Western medicine is, like Western building and architectural science, playing its own game; and in many respects it’s a good, fruitful game for the societies it serves. Nevertheless, it is painfully self-limiting and myopic in its vision of Nature in general and the human organism in particular.
We do not live in an exclusively Newtonian universe: the Chinese recognized this reality three millennia (or more) ago. Disciplines such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, and technology have, much more recently, begun to recognize it. Quantum mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, quantum computing, and similar revolutions of science are leading us, calling us toward a fresh understanding and a new experience of our world and of ourselves — one which must be characterized by insight as much as intellect; by feeling as much as thought.
Years ago, it was in fact common to hear talk of the “art of medicine” in respected Western professional circles. Great architects like Frank Lloyd Wright were spoken of as artists. Scientists like Maxwell, Bohr, Einstein (and, I would argue, even Newton himself) clearly were gifted with something greater than mere intellect alone. There was art in them, an energy of insight that embraced and then surpassed thought and calculation. To this day, great science is said to possess a quality known as “elegance.” In the 20th century, Dirac’s equations were seen as the epitome of mathematical elegance. Truth is beauty.
Thus we return to chi — the life-energy of consciousness that will be found to exist in every formed thing and in all the space it inhabits. Elegance is not the knocking of cosmic billiard balls pushed by the broken hand of randomness or the benign despotism of intellect. Elegance asks us to wake up from the Newtonian nightmare and join the quantum dance of life. To do so, we have to turn within and shatter the table upon which those billiard balls sit. I recently received a lesson in this myself, involving (wouldn’t you know) Hexagram 22 of the I Ching: Grace, with the first and fourth lines changing.
Grace shows success. It is not favorable to create form for its own sake.
(line 1) He leaves the carriage, lends grace to his toes, and walks.
(line 4) Grace in hills and gardens. The roll of silk is not ‘meager and small.’ When humiliation is ended, good fortune.
Appeal is superficial; only beauty is of the depths. “Form for its own sake” works the surface, not the substance from which grace arises. So in order to join with the living earth that shares my being, I need to get out of the hard, high, harshly-lit walled container of the “carriage” — the monarchical solipsism of thought and the lofty tower of empiricism, whose very foundation is the despair of alienation, of estrangement from the world, the universe, the living self. Upon asking for guidance from the quantum reality, as I always do, I found the following delusion within me, which was a poison arrow (a Feng Shui term) of the collective ego: “What you can’t see or measure has to scare you.” In the same meditation, a harrowing, stark image also came to mind: Nature as a deformed imp whose face and body were twisted with the ugliness of fear and competition.
The fear is of some great unknown — in fact, of any unknown — as if knowing alone is the sole condition of safety and success (an error that I call “the Rumsfeld delusion”). My teachers in the I Ching expressed it this way in their version of the oracle:
[The unknown] has been invented by the collective ego to impute that the invisible Cosmic Consciousness is hostile, frightening, or inaccessible. The idea is reinforced by giving credibility only to what can be seen by the outer eyes. When we are open to the Cosmic Consciousness, we experience it as a friendly and loving feeling consciousness. It is unknown only when our intellect has been separated from our feeling consciousness, and starts imagining what it is like.
The irony here is that by allowing fear and the cult of competition against Nature to warp our experience, we actually blind our intellectual capacities by forcing them naked and alone onto the stage of life and mind. Thought is by nature a team player: it likes the company of all the other forces and senses within the living personality. When that teamwork is present, thought reveals the full range of its reach, strength, and courage.