The ability to perceive beauty even where it is not apparent and to welcome beauty into one's daily life.
What is Aesthetic Sense?
Aesthetic sense is what helps us perceive beauty through our senses or through inner attunement. Art, music, poetry and nature are a few of the sensory stimulants that have a formative effect on the aesthetic sense of an individual. But that is not all! The aesthetic sense is also evoked when one witnesses acts of generosity, truthfulness and harmony. This is because there is an intrinsic relationship between aesthetics and ethics. In the lower nature, both have the capacity to create opposites such as good - bad, like - dislike or beautiful - ugly as mere reactions of the individual consciousness. However, when one uses their inner senses, one can perceive a sort of universal beauty present in all things.
Why is it Important to Cultivate an Aesthetic Sense?
The recognition of beauty gives birth to a sense of gratitude and wonder by which one is able to accept and enjoy all experiences on their journey for they are able to see the beauty hidden in all things. This adds joy and delight to the ardour of progress. It brings a refinement in the way we express ourselves and harmony in our surroundings, relationships, and in ourselves.
The development of a sense of beauty is accompanied with an aspiration to be beautiful and a need for harmony. This becomes the seed for widening one's perspective and prevents us from falling prey to the sectarian, divisive forces that demand our attention and drain our energy.
Stages of Aesthesis
There are three stages of aesthesis, moving from instinctive to rational to beyond reason.
Infrarational Stage: In this stage, one simply finds something beautiful, without offering any explanation.
Rational Stage: In this stage, one's mental understanding of why something is beautiful is central.
Suprarational Stage: In this stage, one's aesthetic sense is in harmony with the higher realm.
How Does One Cultivate a True Aesthetic Sense?
The cultivation of a true aesthetic sense begins with a cultivation of our senses of perception. At first, the intention is to encourage recognition of what is beautiful - for when we are able to perceive and receive the "beautiful", we aspire for beauty.
However, the recognition of what is beautiful brings with it a sense of discernment of what is not beautiful or not in harmony with this aspiration. It is then that we enter the rational stage and begin to question why something is beautiful while something else is not. This is a stage characterised by polarity - for shadows can only be cast where there is light.
The suprarational stage of aesthesis - where one can begin to see universal beauty without reasoning and polarising - calls for a new understanding of perfection, a purification of the self, a strong will and a sense of detachment. Below, light has been shed on each of these aspects.
Perfection: We think of perfection as something that must be acquired, a state of goodness, absent of all things bad and ugly. This is a very divisive understanding of the word. Perfection is a state of wholeness; it is the absence of nothing. However, this is not to say that we must accept and enjoy ugliness. When the being is harmonised around the soul center, perfection becomes a natural harmonious outflow. This is where purification comes in.
Purification: The disharmonious movements of our being can be conquered by acknowledging the transformative power of beauty. Little by little, the parts of us that are not in harmony with the whole can be refined and transformed by directing the light towards them i.e. becoming conscious of them and offering them.
Will: It is not always easy to face and conquer our shadows after having experienced light. It creates a feeling of sinking and loss of control. One must have a strong will to control one's imagination and direct it towards beauty and light.
Detachment: The experience of something beautiful can bring with it a feeling of desire. In such a state, one is not able to truly enjoy the beauty and is controlled by their likes and dislikes. A true aesthetic sense does not seek to possess or judge the object of beauty.
Cultivating Aesthetic Sense in Children
A child should be encouraged to recognise beauty and bring it into their everyday life. Every action must be carried out with a sense of beauty and harmony. This must be done for the love of beauty, not to attract attention or please others. It is much more difficult to tell a story that is beautiful from beginning to end without using catastrophe and sensationalism to attract attention.
When guiding a child who is making any kind of art, one must encourage the child to express their truth rather than emphasising technique. Probe them to make paintings inspired by their surroundings, but do not insist on details. It is their impression or experience of the object that needs capturing. It is that which authenticates their relationship with beauty.
Efforts must be made to help the child see the inherent beauty in all things. When a child is exposed to ugliness, it is not advisable to say that that is how life is. Instead, one must say that there is a beauty behind this ugliness waiting to be realised. This creates a sense of possibility as opposed to the fatalism of the former statement.
When a child recognises disharmony - in their bodies, for example - encourage them to see the possibility for harmony in their body as opposed to feeling powerless and pitiful. Use of arms must be proportionate, my body must be harmonious over it is a pity my arms are too thin for the rest of my body.
Aesthetic Sense and Integral Yoga
The purpose of Integral Yoga is the transformation of our superficial, narrow and fragmentary human way of thinking, seeing, feeling and being into a deep and wide spiritual consciousness, an integrated inner and outer existence and of our ordinary human living into the divine way of life. This requires a transformation of all parts of being - the mind, the body, the vital energies, and psychic and spiritual transformation. The vital is particularly difficult to transform and conquer. Aesthetic sense is a great help in the process.
The Vital Being is the seat of life force; of an unprecedented energy. It is passionate and powerful but it can also be desirous and impressionable. It is reactive when it is exposed to cruelty, injustice or anger. The very same vital, when placed in a harmonious, good environment is capable of great things. Art, music, dance and poetry have the power to connect us with the divine. It is no wonder that these are used as forms of worship and aids for concentration.
The pull between light and shadow in the vital can be resolved by the development of an aesthetic sense - the ability to perceive beauty even in places where it may not be evident. The development of an aesthetic sense is accompanied by a sense of equanimity, a state of non reactive composure. This is the state where the duality ceases to exist and one can access the full potential of the vital being.