Thursday, November 18, 2004

Of the Gita and Italian Shoes

How am I to reconcile my reading of the Gita, the words of the Dalai Lama, the teachings of Buddhism, the Yoga Sutras, with my love for Italian shoes? for perfume? for massage? for art?

I read part of the Gita this morning. But here I am, staring down at the most fabulous kelly green pointy-toe shoes with a slightly-taller-than-kitten-heel, and I feel as transformed by them as I do by my spiritual reading. I want both. Can't I have both? Wasn't Marx a dandy?

There is much that appeals to me in Buddhism. Compassion. I can dig it. Equanimity. Challenging, but I can dig it. But how does a woman who swoons at distant bakery smells, who has wept biting into a fig, who stood for hours transfixed by the beauty of the Charioteer of Delphi, renounce her senses? How can this woman believe that her senses are actually a source of misery?

I can only believe it intellectually. I have tried repeatedly to meditate on this, to accept it. But as I sat outside this morning with the dogs and a view to the lake and a book on my lap and in my head, I know that Beauty is good. I will not believe that my love of beauty is a weakness. And I know that it is not when I feel the joy of Beauty as acutely as the warmth of caffeine from the first sip of coffee in the morning, as acutely as the feel of sunshine on my eyelids. While it may be true that at the atomic level everything is one, we do interpret the world through the lenses of our bodies. Our bodies have eyes, and we should not renounce the gift of vision and our senses as something evil, rather a girl might be singingly grateful for them. The actual world may be one thing. But the world we live in is another. I love Beauty. I---- love----Bee-u-tee. And though my reading of it is not tinged soley by the formal aspects, for just now I looked down at the yellow gold and amethyst ring that was my great-grandmother's engagement ring, and my heart soared, though yellow gold is typically not my favorite, and I have prized the taste of sugar cookies too cloying and sloppily iced for the the fact that I knew they were made with love, still Appearances matter to me, and I do not feel ashamed for saying so. What did Oscar say? Something about the mystery of the world being written in its appearances?

So how do I reconcile my Wildean instincts with my Buddhist sympathies? The answer is that I don't. The answer is that I must learn to accept Complexity and Contradiction within my heart. I think Henry Miller said something like, "If I say one thing today, and the opposite tommorrow, both times I am right." And there it is. I am right when I see ugliness in the strip centers and when I see desolation in the 10 lane highways of my homeland, Florida, but I am also right when I feel a connection with and tenderness toward the lethargic lobsters trapped in a glass tank in the supermarket.

I came in from the lake and the dogs to tell you that. I needed to say that. I respect you immensely, Your Holiness, but I will not renounce Beauty. I will work on Compassion and Loving-Kindness and even Equanimity, but I won't feel ashamed for being a sensualist. And I don't mind having the air of the ridiculous. In my one-of-a-kind pink tweed coat designed by a little-known Krakow designer click-clacking about in my Italian pointy-toes reciting verse from the Gita. There I am. I know there can be no other way for me.


At 5:27 PM, Blogger svm said...

how lovely! i am thinking of george emerson in the tree in the fields outside of tuscany as he recites his daily creed: L-U-V...T-R-O-O-T-H...B-U-U-T-E-E-E! the elder emerson is much like your mum, who looks over and smiles at his odd but entirely lovable progeny. ;)

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Irma Vep said...

Dear SVM,

Thank you so much for reminding me of A Room with a View! I'm rushing out right now to rent it and revel in treetop-proclaimed virtues. Wish I could view it with you, however.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger WeirdLoverWilde said...

I know exactly what you mean.

It's not unlike the feeling of disliking the United States, while recognizing that they're in a way, responsible for your quality of living (i.e. in Canada, anyway). Conflict of interest.

But then, we're full of contradictions, aren't we? Isn't that what makes us beautiful... or crazy?

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Irma Vep said...

Julia! Que bella sorpresa! How wonderful to find your words here.

Yes, I think complexity might actually make us more beautiful. As usual, I can't remember the provenance of something I want to quote, but I do remember someone of the Paris 1920's expat set saying something about the most beautiful paintings being those from which you derive something new every time you look at them. Maybe that can be a metaphor for people as well. And crazy? Yes, sometimes. But I am hoping that one can become, if not comfortable, then accepting of contradiction within her consciousness.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Indeterminacy said...

Your post is not only beautiful and meaningful, it is highly aesthetic. How can inner harmony and sensual harmony be separate? I am sure that inner harmony influences how we perceive the beauty around us, and that outer harmony can dissolve inner disharmony. The mistake might be to become dependent on that process, or in expending ourselves to exhaustion resolving irresolvable contradictions. Especially in contradiction there is beauty. Keep on. You are doing it exactly right.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Irma Vep said...

Caro Indeterminacy,

Beautiful, meaningful, and aesthetic? Thank you thank you. Inner harmony and sensual harmony separate? Yes, maybe there's not this disconnect between the two that I've been taking for granted. I will think about it some more.

At 3:53 AM, Blogger andrew s.yang said...

Wonderful entry.

The Gita is one of my favorites as well! I love the scene when Krishna shows Arjuna his true form and completely blows his little mind. But I think at least for Buddhism your love of beauty and enjoyment of the senses isn’t necessarily a baby that need be thrown out with the bathwater. Wouldn’t the buddhist say senses are not the source of our suffering so much as our attachment to them? You can be a buddhist and wear nice shoes, we all have preferences and likes after all, it is just a matter of not getting too attached to those preferences for well-stitched soles and superior tooling to the point that it breaks your heart when they go away.

For shoes this might not be so hard, but of course none of us are Imelda Marcos and I realize we have other things in our closet as well… Still, I assert there is nothing to buy into: I am this, or I am not, I am that, etc. We are students of Life, are we not? In Budapest, in Tampa, in Boston. And there is nothing to accomplish in some perfect sense, only to Practice with. Most diligently. With a lot of tripping included. I think this takes a whole life, minimum! or maybe i'm just a slow poke..

(ps: I think Charlotte Joko Beck’s writings of these subjects are good, all respects to Krishna and the big D.L. And your dogs! What a riot. But damn that is a lot of fur! Do they get a haircut in the summer?)

At 3:53 AM, Blogger andrew s.yang said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Irma Vep said...


Yes, you're right. They need not be mutually exclusive. They do seem to be rivalling impulses, but there is indeed a difference between appreciation of what the senses can offer us, and attachment, in the Buddhist sense, to their pleasures.

The idea of Moderation can answer this as well. From the Gita:

"Yoga is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who stays awake. By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow."

I had not heard of Beck. I will look into her writings.
Thank you for the suggestion.


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