Two Paths to Awakening: The Matrix and Sense8

I recently started watching Sense8 on Netflix with my partner, just months after re-watching the matrix series. I find that work by the Wachowski sisters has a unique blend of masculine and feminine principles. Their films often appear explosive and dynamic on the surface, but the way that the story seeps into your consciousness slowly lends to moments of insight, felt more as soft openings and subtle clarities that contrast the violent scenes and gripping stories. In this way, watching a Wachowski film a second, third, or fourth time will always bring a new level of understanding.

My favorite aspect of The Matrix is how the sacred feminine is expressed in the mother of the matrix. She is the unknown variable, the twist of fate, that intuitive knowing that is hard to put into words or understand. I savored the forms that she took and the important role that she played in the undoing of Neo. However, although the Sacred Feminine was present in The Matrix, I always felt that it was a strong illustration of the Sacred Masculine. Neo had to learn how to become “One” with The Matrix in order to fight it. His journey required centeredness, discipline, and clarity of mind in order to fight illusion and wake up. Although Trinity brought an aspect of love and relationship, most of the journey had to be taken alone, which exemplifies the hero’s journey of individuation spoken about in many male-written psychology theories or philosophies.

I have only finished the second episode of Sense8, but the matrix overtures are unmistakable. And at the same time, there is something quite contrasting to The Matrix. There are eight main characters instead of one. In this way, relationship does not only offer a source of support and inspiration for the character’s journey, it becomes the journey itself and plays a central role in the process of awakening. Instead of discipline and mental clarity, the character’s wake up through their senses. Their power is found in their sensitivity and receptivity to one another. Also, another element of central importance is that they learn to trust their intuition. Many spiritual traditions emphasize not-knowing as a practice, but The Sacred Feminine is often a path of learning what our knowings are. Although the two seem to contradict one another, I believe they essentially are the same and can become mutually supportive on the path. Lastly, the feeling of Sense8 is much less linear than The Matrix. The Matrix breaks the code step-by-step, scene-by-scene, fight-by-fight. In Sense8, you are not ever really sure what one scene has to do with the next. The attention quickly drifts to an entirely different setting that is seemingly only connected by a shared sense, feeling, dream or memory.

It would give me great pleasure to continue to dissect the different approaches to awakening that these two series present. However, I began writing this post because my thoughts took me to look up the Wachowski sisters before and after their transition. I was curious about how their art seemed to beautifully accompany their transition from male to female. I only got as far as looking at their pictures on Google images (sometimes images give me all the information I need). The before and after images of their transition so clearly portrayed a process of blossoming, a transformation that was expressed from inside-out. For me, this depicts a path marked by the Sacred Feminine. Whereas many spiritual traditions focus on going inward to discover truth, I have found that the Sacred Feminine unfolds truth through outward expression. The difference here is also in what kind of truth we are speaking of. The Sacred Masculine may center around unveiling ultimate truths, cutting away illusion to discover the bare-naked emptiness that we wade in. On the contrary, the Sacred Feminine places a vital importance on personal truth; it is through our authentic expression of that malleable and particular version of the truth that we are able to align with, understand and embody universal truths. I also realized there is a difference here in how these paths relate to identity. Whereas a practice based on the Sacred Masculine might work to detach from identity as a form of illusion, the Sacred Feminine works to express identity as a form of truth. Of course, truth and illusion are two sides of the same coin, and a genuine spiritual search would require a light and playful attitude with both. But the form in how we play with these two sides of our nature can manifest quite differently. Both are valid, and both can lead us to liberation if that is what we genuinely seek.

Also, just like gender, spiritual paths are not so black and white. A person may have a tendency to practice or connect with the Sacred Feminine or Sacred Masculine depending on the balance they need to find in this life. I find that the path of the Sacred Feminine can help us develop more masculine qualities, while the path of the Sacred Masculine aids in unfolding our feminine nature. The more I walk on my path, the more the two become integrated. At this moment, it seems important for humanity to give words and form to the Sacred Feminine, because it has been hidden away and undervalued for so long. Hopefully, as we evolve and give voice to the Sacred Feminine, it will no longer be necessary to distinguish the two, because we will have integrated and embodied these truths sufficiently. For now, we can glimpse at this possibility through the life and art of the Wachowski sisters.

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Radical Love. Can I love every part of myself?

For the past year or so, my contemplation has revolved around the mutual relationship between sickness and medicine. For me, sickness could be described as our failings, ignorance, discomfort, misfortune, or sometimes even literal illness of the body or mind. Medicine on the other hand, is our power to transform these parts of ourselves. It can be found in the qualities of our higher potential, such as hope, humility, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude or perhaps at the most essential level, our ability to love. On a universal level, perhaps we could reduce our sickness and medicine to two diverging potentials in the human condition: fear and love. On the personal level, these two forces take a myriad of creative forms. They express themselves in the minute details of our daily lives, attached with rich stories we create about our past, present and future selves. They are embedded in our unique karma and family history, in our particular wisdom and ignorance, in all that we know and do not know about ourselves and our purpose here. Our singular expression of sickness and medicine maps out the path to self-realization. Both are necessary, and one cannot exist without the other. We cannot find or develop our medicine, if we do not know our own sickness.

This is the blessing of the darkness. It challenges us to strengthen our medicine, to find the light over and over; and as we enter into a more integrated heart space, both our darkness and light transform and begin to take on new meanings. “There are no demons here, Mary of Magdela.” There is nothing wrong, nothing missing. The sickness itself is what divides us into right and wrong, shoving the undesired parts of ourselves into darkness and casting shadows onto the world around us. Choosing to look at the darkness without judgment is choosing medicine. It is a choice that can be made in every moment with what is available. Our medicine does not have to be strong our well developed to choose to look at what is present now with love. We always have the choice to continue to fear the darkness—to ignore it, to fight it, to judge it—in whatever way our habitual patterns have been constructed to not see those exiled parts of ourselves; or to just look with the question “can this too be loved?”

I remember when I first started to gain weight in college. I felt so angry and uncomfortable with my body. It was an emotionally intense time for me, filled with anxiety, depression, and physical sickness. My body was really just trying to protect itself and send me a message that I needed to stop and take care. I didn’t have the emotional support or guidance that I needed at that time, so I stumbled through this struggle mostly alone. After college, I lost weight naturally, mainly because I stopped drinking and had more regular sleep patterns. At my desired weight, the fear of my body changing again was still very alive, and for the first time I began to control what I was eating out of fear of gaining weight again. In general, my response to control is to rebel, so after a few years of controlling what I ate, out of anger, frustration and rebellion, I began to gained weight again.

This fight between control and rebellion went on for about a total of five years, and I remember when I began to soften into the fight. I have always been curious about the concept of radical love. Is it possible to love everything? To love every single part of myself? Something deep inside me believes that it is, so my life practice has always been aligned with this principle. After years of resistance, control, and anger with my body, I wondered “could I love myself if I gained 100 more pounds? Does the weight of my body really limit how much I love myself?” That thought began to turn things around. I decided to eat whatever I wanted, whenever, and in whatever quantity, as long as I could sit with the emotions that came up before, during or after eating and just love what was present. Naturally, over a long period of time accompanied by emotional growth and healing, my weight began to balance out. I love the relationship I have with my body today. I don’t have any restrictions around my diet. I listen to my body. I eat what it craves, and I thank it for speaking to me. Sometimes I gain weight, sometimes I lose weight, but it feels natural and loving; because of course our bodies change, just like the seasons and the tides.

Our relationship with our body is such a great metaphor for self-love and care, because it represents our most basic needs. Our physical body in many ways maintains the same needs we had as infants, our most essential self. It is also brilliantly designed to preserve equilibrium, a natural dance between inner and outer, give and take. When we eat too much, is there some part of ourselves in the shadow that is starving for attention? What are we denying ourselves? When we eat too little, are we overwhelmed or have we taken in too much from the outside world?

Feminism is not the antidote

I think that feminist discourse is necessary to articulate blind areas from our cultural conditioning. It helps to counter the weight of the heavy burdens we all carry within us from the patriarchy. It helps to position ourselves, and give form and context to a process of change. However, I do not think it is the medicine that will heal the wounds caused by the patriarchy. What’s more, when feminist discourse polarizes and becomes “what the patriarchy is not” that is when it starts to get dangerous, casting a big shadow on that terrible external beast, and not leaving any room for honest self-reflection and compassion. I’ve found that, in order to do deeper healing with the sacred feminine, I have had to evaluate and re-evaluate my relationship with the rhetoric of feminist theories. I have had to ask who is my inner masculine? who is my inner feminine? what beliefs do they hold? And how do they treat each other?

The imbalance, or sickness, in society is built around a tight mentality of right and wrong, control and manipulation. We have lost a fundamental trust in life (the feminine) and separated ourselves so far to depletion…depletion of the earth, of society and of our very souls. When feminism stays in the realm of concepts and theory it can easily take on the qualities of our culture’s sickness and just give them a new paint job under the disguise of anti-patriarchy. For me, genuinely stepping out of the patterns of patriarchy has been about allowing the feminine to flourish in the context of compassion, softness, listening, intuition and love; qualities that political rhetoric or ideologies inherently lack and fail to embody. So, for me, the true revolution has been to plunge down beyond the words and ideas of patriarchy, feminism, right and wrong, and meet myself in my own heart, my own wounds, and in my own compassion.

We are all conditioned by our culture. We all carry the sickness inside of us. We all come from the human family that is embedded with centuries of wars, trauma, and injustice. Not one of us is separate from this, not one of us is untouched. It’s true that cultural wounds cut into different bodies in distinct ways and that it is crucial to recognize the shades and forms of cultural wounding in different groups of people in order to heal. The cultural wounding of a woman is different from that of a man living in the patriarchy, and for that they require different medicine. Often, for women the medicine is to speak up, often for men, the medicine is to begin to listen. If we look at this on an archetypal scale, the healing is the same: giving space to the voice of the feminine. This will benefit all individuals as we begin to acknowledge the damage caused by the imbalance of our patriarchal system.

The problem that I see with feminist rhetoric, however well intentioned, is that it stays frozen as a concept or an ideal. We create the ideas of what a modern or progressive person looks like…the words they use, the way they dress, the choices they make…and we try to fit into the idea before we have actually understand it from our own lived experience. In this way we begin to create more images of ourselves and, wanting to live up to these images, we exclude those culturally conditioned parts of ourselves that don’t reflect this concept. Excluding these parts creates a huge shadow; the beast becomes externalized. It is easy to criticize Trump, but much more difficult to see what parts of ourselves he reflects. More importantly, excluding these parts, punishing or rejecting them, will limit the depth of work we can do to truly liberate ourselves from our conditioning and stand up against the inequalities in our world.

On my path, I have often been faced with two images of myself that I have to hold with compassion in order to really listen to and liberate my heart. These images are polarized versions of a woman in our society today: the good girl and the rebellious feminist. It has surprised me over and over that the image of the “liberated woman” that I have constructed in my mind has nothing to do with the liberation of my heart. The good girl is not an image that I openly adhere to, it is not so much in the light of my personality, but you can bet she is present any time the feminist speaks up with something to prove to the world. Both extremes have their judgements about how I should behave and who I should be. When I have been able to dive deeply into the fear and shame of the good girl as well as the anger and righteousness of the feminist, I have been able to integrate these two voices and make choices that were not dependent on either of them, choices that were aligned with my deepest inner truth, not an image of who I am or am not. Unfolding the deeper truths of the heart is a powerful act of restoring the imbalance of our patriarchy, because it is giving voice to the feminine on a deeper, spiritual level, independent, but not exclusive of, gender or cultural conditioning. For me, it has been the true revolution in my life.

The missing half of Spirit

My concepts of heaven or enlightenment always seemed a bit boring to me, like some state of arrival. Why live? I never want to stop learning. The times of confusion, despair and darkness are so rich and human, I would never seek to end them. They soften me and sink me into this wise body more and more…and prepare me for my final death, which is not at all final. Learning how to live with the cycles of life and death seems so central to this human experience: they are what begin, end and propel life forward. I imagine my physical death in this life, and I think, “wow I am already learning how to do that!” When I let old concepts of myself die away and open to the birth of what’s mysterious and alive inside of me, I am humbled by truth. It feels like such a gift to be able to receive this experience over and over, that I can only say thank you. Trying to explain where this is going, what it is for, and what it’s about seems disrespectful to the gift of right now, what’s unfolding, complete mystery. Always. That’s my omnipotence, my omnipresence, my don’t-know mind: a surrender to life, a bowing down to all of the places where it wants to die and be born, moment to moment, and realizing I have no control over this and no business judging its process.

Here is an article that beautiful expresses the importance of including the Sacred Feminine on our spiritual journey.

Trusting the sickness, trusting life

The idea that life has an inherent impulse to live and that we are just forms of life being driven by this impulse, is perhaps obvious. Although simple and self-evident, it does have its radical implications for the ego self, the self that has a million illusions of what it is. Looking at the bare truth of yourself as just another life form stands against all concepts that you are somehow more important than other life forms or that you are not so important to let yourself live out your desires. It is an obvious truth that may be easy to understand, but not so easy to live.

I respect the different spiritual traditions that point to the same thing with different language, they have both guided me and misguided me in all the right ways. However, the clearest guide I have found to being human is nature itself. I have discovered nature to be the purest, deepest, and most direct reflection of my true self. It is after all, where we come from and where we return. At the end of the day, after all ideas, philosophies and dogmas, we are just a form of life. We are nature. The most eloquent and evident depiction of this truth is that when we die, when we no longer have a mind to separate us, our bodies become part of the earth, water, worms, animals, and trees. We are not exempt from this ecosystem, no matter how much we try to control, no matter how far we have removed ourselves from the rhythms of life.

For me, the language I have chosen to point at this basic truth also helps me to thrash any human-made concepts of enlightenment or reality. “We are life, and life wants to live,” feels all-inclusive to me. Life wanting to live does not identify as Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu or Christian. It isn’t even human or non-human. It does not have a practice that takes any specific form, because the practice is allowing your unique life form to live as it desires. There have been times when religious and spiritual teachings have lead me to feel more separate from life. Practices like vegetarianism or meditation retreats, which use a sense of restriction or control to arrive to or embody this understanding, have taken me to feel like I have to do something to connect with my spiritual nature. But the truth is, life is inherently spiritual, and life wants to live. I have found that by allowing my life to live, I uncover deeper spiritual understandings naturally. It is a human invention to restrict ourselves from food, shelter, talking, or sex in order to arrive to spiritual truths. There is nothing wrong with these practices; I have found that my heart will instinctually take me towards moments of retreat, meditation, or fasting without any effort. However, when they become a concept, a rule or a dogma, I believe they go against the natural rhythms of life. Life wants to live! There is nothing wrong with any part of our existence. In the most painful and dark times of humanity, life still fights to live, and it has done so in beautiful ways. Wherever we are on our evolutionary path, whatever our situation is, we are still just life; moment by moment presented with the opportunity to hear the rain, feel the wind, or enjoy the pleasure of our taste buds responding to delicious food. This is a gift! And for me, the most honorable way of receiving this gift is to practice the rhythms of life itself and find pleasure in each moment. In my experience, the guide for following these rhythms is placed directly in the human heart. There is nothing to do but listen.

In my understanding of the Sacred Feminine, this is a major difference that it offers which I have not found in other spiritual traditions coming from patriarchal cultures. For me, the Sacred Feminine is about listening, softening and falling in. There is nothing to do, no restrictions to make, just to enjoy yourself in all of your wisdom and ignorance in each moment that you take a breath. It was a huge revolution for me to begin to allow pleasure into my life as a spiritual practice, because pleasure is one of those things that often gets a bad reputation in the “spiritual” sphere. But for me, finding pleasure in each moment is the greatest gift you could give back to life. There is no reason to live but for life itself.

The healing path, just like spiritual practices, can also forget its connection with all life. There is a sneaky idea of healing as “fixing problems” that is insidious in many therapeutic approaches. As humans, beyond our personal issues, I think what we are really being challenged to heal here is our notion of separateness with nature. For me, healing from a place of trust in life has instinctively brought me to be more aware of my part in the whole. I think true healing naturally integrates a spiritual awareness. My healing path has made me more sensitive to all life, and through this I have connected with a deeper desire to live in harmony with nature, which is not separate from me. I have not had to do anything to arrive to this desire but follow my heart and allow myself to be who I am. On my healing path, just as with the spiritual practices I have encountered, I have followed strands of myself that come from feelings of lack; looking to fix or change who I am. In these moments, I have encountered therapists and healers who reflected this attitude back to me, and I always ended up more damaged than healed. These were moments of learning what does not feel natural, true or loving to me. It always took me a long time to return to a place of trust after these experiences, but every time I have come to the same conclusion: If I am approaching healing from a place of “something missing, something wrong,” I am perpetuating the wound. I have been more and more convinced that healing occurs from a place of trust in who I already am; my shadow, light, childhood, wound, and defenses are all perfectly designed and okay just as they are. If I really want to allow my life to live, it only takes deep listening and acceptance for all of these parts of myself to give rise to my beauty nature.

I think a lot of human rights and environmental activist also get stuck in this paradigm of trying to fix a problem. They fight patriarchy and capitalism so furiously that they create a huge shadow, disowning or rejecting those parts of themselves that they hate in the system. This ultimately just creates more concepts of the self that separates, and it can be a trap. I think that everything serves a purpose, and perhaps those who are stuck in the vibration of fighting the “external beast,” are maintaining a balance on some level, for others to do deeper work. We are all at different points in our evolution, and this is also perfectly designed. However, on my individual path, I have found that the more I heal—the more I set aside concepts of myself in order to listen and follow my heart—the less I have to fight outside. The patriarchy and capitalist system still breaks my heart; but the more I let my heart break, the more compassion I can find for this human sickness that we have created. Everything is just as it needs to be. This radical trust in life is to see that we too are life. The sickness of the system is a part of life, and a part of us. It is just a great opportunity to find our medicine and discover what it really means to be human on this beautiful planet. Fighting the system is exhausting and unsustainable, loving the parts of ourselves that the system has touched is the natural rhythm that life wants to take, and it restores balance and energy rather than leave us angry, bitter and depleted.

Nature has reaffirmed this perspective for me on numerous occasions. I remember a talk I had with my parents over lunch about the state of the world and the damage we are causing to the environment. I was so depressed after our conversation that I decided to take a walk outside. I remember looking out onto a beautiful lake with tears, asking for forgiveness to all of nature for our ignorance and greed. The response was immediate and transformative. I was suddenly filled with love, and could feel nature smiling back at me. I have had many moments when I hear nature speaking so clearly. It doesn’t speak in a language I know, but the clarity is like nothing else I have heard before. If I were to translate the clarity I heard that day into words, it would sound something like this: “I am always here to love you. The damage you are causing is not to me but to yourself. Guilt and shame don’t help you to see me. I will still be here when you are gone; I do not depend on you to know my worth or even to exist. If you want to live in harmony with me, that is your choice.” There it is, plain and simple, the balance of love and freedom that humans are striving to understanding. The irony is that it is lying dormant at the core of who we are. We already know how to love; we already know how to be free. Our beauty nature knows this, and the secret is in the authentic expression of our heart. Living aligned with the truths in our heart brings us closer to nature, closer to ourselves. When we choose this path, there is nothing to fight.

The sickness of humanity comes from a basic distrust in life. Our current system looks to put power over “the other,” but life is inherently powerful. Think of a tiny seed that grows into a huge tree, or salmon swimming up river to lay eggs. Life wants to live! When we are removed from this basic nature that drives us, we forget about our power and we look for it outside of ourselves, from a place of control or manipulation. You want to fight the patriarchy? Stop controlling and manipulating, stop living to appease concepts that you have of yourself or that other’s have of you. Allow your life to live, surrender to your heart’s desire. Occupying the place of the victim within the system is another way of denying this power. Holding onto Donald Trump to change his ways is exhausting! Let him go, he is sick. Let the sickness get so sick it either dies or looks for healing. Who knows the path that life will take humanity on if we really begin to trust it and let it do its work. Part of trusting life is not worrying so much about the outcome. We may end up wiping out our species with war, global warming, or artificial intelligence. Whatever happens, there is no doubt that we will learn a lot in the process; because we are life, and no matter how much we try to deny or control our life, our nature is to grow. Without fearing the outcome, we have the option to surrender to the process. We are here now with a choice of fighting or trusting life, of denying our heart’s desire or simply living.

Healing is inherent to life

Healing is inherent to life. It is not some supernatural act that is only reserved for the select few. Instead, it is just natural, and exactly how life expresses itself when left untouched. If you examine the sickness of our culture you can find, at the core, a distrust in life. As we grow up, we learn all sorts of ways to hide, contort, manipulate and protect our most vulnerable selves, our life wanting to live. We learn that life as it is, ourselves as we are, is fundamentally not okay. We can learn this in our families, in our schools, in our churches, in any place where the cultural dogma is being preached. This cultural belief comes in the form of “shame on you,” “what’s wrong with you?,” “suck it up!,” “that’s weird!,” or my personal favorite “stop being so sensitive!” There is no way around it, our culture is very, very sick, and as little children we either choose to be autistic to preserve our innocence and connection with spirit, or we take on the sickness that they hand down to us. We adapt to this sickness in our own creative way, although unconsciously. To begin to heal this sickness, it takes another creative act, but this time it requires consciousness. How do we learn to let go and allow life to live its truest healing nature if we have only been taught to manage and control life?

There are many therapeutic techniques that get caught in this predicament. They look at healing from a perspective of fixing or controlling what is “wrong” with the person, when really what is “wrong” is something very natural that is trying to be freed from the concepts of right and wrong. These therapeutic approaches can sometimes seem to do miracles on the surface, producing insights and big changes in the person’s life; but on deeper levels they can continue to promote the message that something is wrong and create an addiction to fixing what is not right. From my perspective, this way of healing comes from a feeling of lack, from the ego. Spirituality can also come from this place, by adopting strict practices, diets or dogmas to try and reach the perfection of Spirit outside of human form. Healing and spiritual practices that are caught in this paradigm are both based in the same feeling of lack, the ego. Therapies that are trying to fix or modify have forgotten that we are perfect just as we are, because we are a creation of spirit. Spiritual practices that are trying to reach spirit outside of the body, have forgotten that Spirit chose this messy life form to express itself in imperfection, which is pure beauty. It is not so much about these practices, as it is about how we use them.

What we call our “imperfections” are what make up our beauty nature, because they are unlike anything else that has ever existed. When you consider the concept of perfection or imperfection, it becomes really hard to define from an objective standpoint, because everybody has a different idea of what perfect is. In general, I think that ideas of perfection are often influenced by cultural beliefs of what is normal or preferred. Ultimately, perfection is a concept of how things should be. Imperfection then becomes the opposite, all of the traits that don’t fit into that concept of how things should be. To accept our imperfection is the way to freedom, because instead of how things should be, imperfection is how things are. To accept how things are is to see that nothing is wrong, nothing is missing. That does not mean that there is no need to change, because the natural rhythm of life is to grow and change. To accept life as it is, is to allow it to grow and change in the most natural and loving way.

Therefore, I believe that healing begins with authenticity, because it is in our imperfection where our beauty shines most; it is there where our gifts are born and our lessons are learned. The greatest treasure we have is our imperfect self, because there is nothing else like it in all of existence, and there never will be. Healing is the expression of our imperfect beauty nature, so to accept our imperfections is what allows for healing to occur. It is already in you, wanting to express itself so that your life can live each precious moment fully.

So the only thing to do is to listen to what is present with complete honesty. When you can listen to what is true for you in any given moment, then your life is already feeling a relief that it has permission to express its imperfect beauty nature. No truth is ever perfect, because the truth never arrives to a fixed state. It is just what is, and what is is always changing. To allow your truth to be just as it is without trying to modify it, is healing. By doing this, you are allowing your imperfect beauty nature to be expressed, your life to live, in this moment, just as it is.

Beauty by Grace

I was once rated by a man. Not behind my back to his buddies at a bar, which probably has happened much more than I would like to know, but to my face, in a private conversation. He gave me my rating on a scale of one to ten. He was surprised by the look on my face when he gave it to me, because he intended for my relatively high rating to be received as a compliment. It wasn’t, it was a seven. He insisted to me that it was a compliment. Stumbling around for an explanation, he claimed that, due to the existence of super models, he couldn’t just give away tens to everybody. He wasn’t so articulate, but that was his message. It wasn’t the number seven that bothered me (I happen to love the number seven); it was that it was a number at all. I know I’m not a super model, and I have no complaints about that. However, I am also not a number seven, and, as much as I may love that number, I will not take it as a compliment.

I felt deeply bothered after that conversation, and it is something that has stayed with me for years. The feelings and thoughts that have lingered are not so much around the fact that a man felt comfortable enough to degrade me to my face with a number rating and expect me to thank him. Although that is troubling, Donald Trump is now president, and there are bigger beasts to worry about. What felt particularly sad to me was his perception of beauty as something that is limited to a scale between the numbers of one and ten. And the sadness persists, because I know that he is not the only one who carries this scale around, measuring something that cannot be measured. As much as I don’t personally adhere to this scale to judge people on a conscious level, it is there, floating around in our collective psyche, and the implicit affects that it has on the world and ourselves are just as endless as beauty itself.

When I was around the age of twelve, I remember my sister and I used to read beauty magazines together. After awhile I started to notice that when I finished reading these magazines, I would have two lists running through my mind. The first list was a list of everything that I was convinced was wrong with me, and the second list was a list of everything I “needed” in order to fix what was apparently wrong with me. These lists started to feel so heavy and anxiety ridden that I finally made the decision around the age of thirteen to quite reading those magazines. It was about a one-year stint of willingly paying for and swallowing our culture’s shit, until that first moment of grace.

The second moment of grace happened soon after, when I had an extremely clear and meaningful experience around beauty that has stayed with me my whole life. I remember it so well. I was in the airport, waiting to board a plane with my family, deep in thought about the effects of those magazines and this prescribed idea of beauty that is so embedded in our culture that it becomes almost impossible to see. I was amazed at how naturalized those ideas were that I had never even questioned them. So I started, in that moment of grace, to question. Why is young beautiful? Why is one body type more beautiful than another? What if beauty had nothing to do with what I read in those magazines? What is beauty? It was when I arrived at this question that my whole perspective shifted. I asked the question with such an intense curiosity that suddenly the whole world looked different. I remember it so clearly. I was boarding the plane by that time and every person I passed became an answer to my question. The shape, contour, color, expression…the grace that held each face I glanced at down the aisle, was filled with beauty. It was a deep understanding that beauty is created equal; it falls on and pours through everything. I believe that what changed for me in the moment that I asked that question was that I opened up to the possibility of what beauty is, and for a second it came flooding in and washed over all of those other cultural perceptions that had been limiting my vision.

Although I am not always blessed to look at the world with such a stunned sense of wonder, something of that moment has always stayed with me. What I think stayed with me in my core was the understanding that beauty is everywhere and could not fit into one definition, or number. Rating every person on that plane the number ten to describe the beauty I saw that day seems absolutely ridiculous. I think that the gift of beauty is that its expression is infinite, but the cultural lens has been scratched, painted and thrown through the gutter so many times that one can see maybe only a few forms of beauty through it. Maybe as few as ten. The thing about beauty is it is nothing special, and yet it is the specialness in everything. How fortunate are we to live in a world with so much beauty? How stupid are we to try and measure it and contort it to our standards?

It’s amazing how sometimes it can take years to make connections between to seemingly different and brief moments like the day I was rated a seven, and the day I questioned beauty. But, there you go, today I made that connection.