June 2019: Walking with Beauty

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

In beauty I walk,

With beauty before me, I walk,

With beauty behind me, I walk,

With beauty above me, I walk,

With beauty all around me, I walk,

With beauty within me, I walk,

It is finished in beauty,

It is finished in beauty,

It is finished in beauty,

It is finished in beauty.

(The last verse from the Night Chant of the Navajos, the Yei-bechai)




Choosing to walk in beauty is a revolutionary act of peacemaking


It is a powerful and healing act to pay attention to what is in the shadow in a culture--meaning what is not seen or valued by society; what we are not aware of as we go about our business as usual lives. Beauty is in the shadow in our culture. Beauty is neither appreciated or valued by the powers that be who see it as irrelevant, belonging only in museums and art galleries and carefully manicured gardens.


I would like to share a story by award-winning journalist, Alan Weisman, from his Foreword to Thich Nhat Hahn’s book, The World Without us:


“One bright, cold afternoon in November 2003, I stood with five admirably engaged and dedicated fellow humans at the edge of a deep valley. We were North of Ch’orwon in South Korea’s Kangwon-do Province, staring at one of the most beautiful and terrifying places on Earth. Below us was the Demilitarized Zone: a buffer four kilometers wide that bisects the entire Korean peninsula. For fifty years it has kept two of the world’s largest and most hostile armies from murdering each other.


Even so, each could still clearly see the other’s hillside bunkers, bristling with weapons that neither would hesitate to fire if provoked. Compounding this tragedy was the sad irony that these mortal enemies shared the same history, language, and blood.


But they also shared a miracle. After a half-century, the abandoned no-man’s land between them had reverted from rice paddies and villages to wilderness. Inadvertently, it had become one of the most important nature refuges in Asia. Among the imperiled species that depend on it was one revered throughout the Orient: the red crowned crane. The second-rarest crane on Earth after the whooping crane, it is repeatedly depicted in paintings and silks as a symbol of longevity, and as a manifestation of the noble virtues of Confucian scholars and Buddhist monks. Many, if not most, of these fabulous birds now winter in the DMZ.


My hosts were scientists and staff from the Korean Federation of Environmental Movement. Together, we watched as eleven red-crowned cranes—cherry caps, black extremities, but otherwise as pure and white as innocence itself—silently glided between the seething North and South Korean forces. Placidly, they settled in the bulrushes to feed.”


Even in the midst of chaos and urgency and crisis and dread, or just the sheer busy-ness of survival and the everyday, there is always the beautiful, often to be found in the most unexpected of places. We might think of life as a tapestry--made up of countless interweaving threads. The colors of the threads are constantly changing, as light does throughout the day. There are times when the tapestry is full of dark colors. However, even in the darkest of times, if we pay close attention, we will see that there are threads of gold.

Walking in beauty means paying attention to a golden thread--a DMZ--in our life. The miracle is that as we do, it may transform the whole tapestry into something meaningful and beautiful.


In her poem, The Moths, Mary Oliver writes,


“If you notice anything, it leads you to notice more and more.” It begins then by paying attention by noticing what is beautiful in our lives. Next, we open to this and rest in this. Then, when we take the next step, and the next, and the next, we find we are walking in beauty.



Our superpower as human beings is our capacity to choose. We can choose what we pay attention to. We can choose to pay attention to a golden thread in our life.

In his poem, The Way it is, William Stafford writes:


There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen. People get hurt

Or die: and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.


Choosing to walk in beauty is a revolutionary act of peacemaking


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© 2019  Michael Kearney, MD