Surrendering to Beauty

by Annie O'Shaughnessy (1999)

I remember being fifteen years old. A winter night and sadness. It seemed difficult to go on. I had lost my virginity the spring before and was feeling the full recrimination of my Catholic upbringing. I felt a loss of my power as I realized I had been a trophy for this boy when I had thought differently. I walked out of my house and up the hill to the Headmaster’s garden. I laid down as I had for Bobby, behind the boxwood hedge in a corner of the stone wall. I felt such loneliness and grief. Raw, wounded – I closed my eyes and let myself feel this pain. Tears came – I laid there for a long time. When I looked up, I noticed that snow flakes had begun to fall. They came swirling down -- the full moon illuminating them. In one clear moment, the beauty of this filled me with peace. In the face of that beauty I laid down my guilt and smiled.

I was sixteen the first time I really made love. Full moon, summer night by the lake. This man, 21 years old, loved me so. I felt it as he looked at me, and touched me. He really loved my spirit. Van Morrison's Moon Dance was "our" song and he gazed down onto my nakedness in the moonlight with such reverence and love I cried. And when he entered me we hardly moved -- just held each other, listening to the other's breath, feeling the big heart beating between us, smelling the grass, smelling our skin against skin. Tears streamed down my face -- joy -- piercing joy at the beauty and power of love.

Those experiences occurred in moments of great pain or joy. That was when I opened to beauty. Usually I was too busy -- too competitive –- to find beauty in everyday life. I always had a mission to complete, a burden to carry, some resentment or fear I was harboring, some personal drama to explore and explain. What I was least able to do was surrender. Always there was too much THINKING, too much struggling, not enough being.

I've come to learn that experiencing beauty on a daily basis requires surrender – a letting go, and opening up. That creates a space. Then beauty can find us. It is always there – but often it takes some extraordinary combination of circumstances to break us open to it -- to get us to surrender. Those circumstances might be grief, or loss, or pain, childbirth, surviving serious illness, surmounting huge obstacles, fighting for one's convictions, harsh personal self- awareness and honesty with self, unconditional love, self-sacrifice.

Motherhood marked the beginning of my surrender. When my kids were young I became part of a women’s spiritual group called “Holy Women”, who met once a week in a teepee not far from my house. I would bushwhack through the woods to the pasture with no headlamp. I walked as quietly as I could, occasionally stopping in the total darkness to listen to a whippoorwill, owl, coyote or bat. I arrived at the teepee transformed into an "ancient" -- imagining the power the land once had over us, feeling reverent of nature.

We did a sweat under a full moon and when we came out I laid down naked onto the cool dewy grass, hands by my side, my face in the dirt. I felt embraced and free. This old, man-weary world was shoring ME up -- I felt the strength from the ground coming through me. And later we held hands around the fire and the group said each woman's name three times out loud, and then said "you are powerful, you are woman, you are goddess", and sent energy through the circle to that woman. It was life changing -- all of this. Nature was knocking down the door. Beauty was all around me -- every day. And quietly, patiently, it filled me up.

This essay was first published in the Heron Dance journal, issue 28.

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