Michelle Obama and the beauty-free Tao

I happened to read a post on the CNN blog about Michelle Obama appearing in Vogue magazine. More interesting to me than the post itself, however, were the comments that followed and there were a lot of them.

Many said that MO is a beautiful, gorgeous, young and intelligent first lady. A few, however, stated in no uncertain terms that ‘beautiful’ she is not while several mentioned her inner beauty. One comment stood out from all the rest for me because it appeared to provide a compelling argument. The gist of it was this:

If you described MO as beautiful, then how would you describe the likes of Halle Barry? You’d have to go off the scale to find something beyond the superlatives for them.

Wow! What a clever argument! I mean, we don’t have the means, linguistic or imaginative, to accommodate every face in our current bandwidth of ‘beautiful’. And since we don’t, let’s just admit that some people are simply not beautiful.

Oops, now that I’ve said that, it does sound rather small-minded, doesn’t it? It sort of reflects my limitations in thinking and perceiving rather than the first lady’s beauty or lack of. I mean, seriously, it’s all happening in my mind, isn’t it, this business about whether she is beautiful or not? It’s my judgment, isn’t it? And quite independent of Michelle, I might add. I mean, do you think she’s aware that I’m sat here in my little apartment, continents apart, Down Under, looking out into a rainy morning, making judgments about her beauty or otherwise?

But hey, I know just where to turn to in moments like this, moments where I become blindingly aware of the limitations of my mind, conditioned as it has been by the capricious beliefs and values of its environment.  Here’s Verse 2 from the Tao Te Ching:

2. Abstraction

When beauty is abstracted
Then ugliness has been implied;
When good is abstracted
Then evil has been implied.

So alive and dead are abstracted from nature,
Difficult and easy abstracted from progress,
Long and short abstracted from contrast,
High and low abstracted from depth,
Song and speech abstracted from melody,
After and before abstracted from sequence.

The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them,
And lives, but does not dwell.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at www.chinapage.com

You’ve got to hand it to Lao Tzu and others like him. It’s our tendency to discriminate through judgment that sets up the polarities/abstractions of good and bad, beauty and ugliness.

We have a habit of looking for differences within the immanent properties of naturally occurring things – nature, progress, contrast, depth, melody, sequence. We have this habit of abstracting, building ideas or concepts out of an event, an instance, a moment in time just as I was doing before with Michelle O.

But the sage, (and I am aspiring to sagacity me self J) doesn’t abstract. The sage simply experiences, accepting things as they occur. The sage has no need to see things in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. The sage ‘lives, but does not dwell’ which means she moves freely along with the life stream and is not stuck or attached to anything, physical, mental or emotional. How absolutely freeing that must be!

Michelle, I thank you for giving me cause to recognize my mental foibles. And you did this by simply being a thought in my mind…Power to You, I say! Actually, the thought was mine, in my head…you didn’t do anything at all apart from just being…hmmm…


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