by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
Of all the basic inborn emotions joy may be the closest to love. There are pathways to joy from many other inborn emotions, but we will explore the physical sources first. These are the pleasures arising from our senses.
Beginning with our eyes, visual pleasure comes with mental perception of beauty. But what makes a sight beautiful? Symmetry, pleasing shapes and patterns, arresting and fascinating concordance of colors, reminiscence of human shapes and cultural symbols? Perhaps the key to experiencing beauty is to capture the eye of the beholder, so that time stops and the perceiver sinks into reverie for the mind to approach and gain intimacy with many aspects of the object of gaze. When one’s mind stops moving to keep up with the passing of time and the world around, it is taking a bath in a present reality, and a pleasurable contentment is the result. The same cleansing of the mind occurs through meditation.
Along with the human or natural shapes and static or slowed movement that can mesmerize us, there are also meanings that engage our minds, and thus bring us into a state of contemplation and contentment. The best examples are human faces whose emotional expression awaken echoes from our own personal histories. Ancient Greek aesthetics associated beautiful bodies and faces of both women and men with gods and with love, and modern culture still does this as well. In Western culture visual beauty speaks the language of divine love.
For an awkward multisensory example, during our visit to Florence, while we waited in a long line with other tourists that looped around the massive white, green and pink marble duomo we delved into an extended conversation with a young camera-toting computer worker from Istanbul named Matt. Busy crowds of clouds overhead grew from shifty fog and thunder into drizzle and then steady rain. As water increasingly penetrated through ponchos and headgear to invade our clothes, we were drawn into the movement of Matt’s face and the feelings they transmitted. As we spoke with him, each of us clenching our wet bodies against the trickling cold, he grew familiar for us. The words we exchanged carried our fascination onward until the meaning of our encounter merged with the impression of his face and the reality of his life and thoughts. When we finally left the rain for the unadorned walls and narrow tall glass windows, the hollow, mostly empty church interior was much less fulfilling than our passionate sharing of life perspectives on the path that led us there.