August 21, 2010

Vanity as a Spiritual Pathway

Having been raised Catholic, it always seemed to me that there were many things to be gained from the so-called Seven Deadly Sins.

(The Seven Deadly Sins – I love it! Catholics don’t mess around: not only are you “missing the mark” [the original meaning for the word sin] but you’re doing so in a “deadly” fashion.)

So yes, there are plenty of things to be mined in these sins. For instance, if you think about it, there’s something God-searching in gluttony. You’re searching for God, really – you’re just going about it through the tastebuds (which definitely could be missing the mark). Or lust. There’s a pursuit of transcending the mind and reaching a mystical experience… lost in the arms of the one you long for. But in my view, the sin that by far has the greatest value for our personal development, individually and collectively, is vanity.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself, what moves the world more, being great in a quiet, anonymous, work-on-it day in, day out kind of way… or appearing to be great in a very public and widely revered fashion? Self-discovery through yoga… or wanting a great yoga butt or body? Sleeping eight hours because it keeps your body balanced… or sleeping eight hours because you won’t have dark circles under your eyes? Strides in understanding how to nourish our bodies correctly… or Botox and Viagra?

Methinks the latter.

The appearance of youth and beauty is the cornerstone of vanity – which doesn’t require much effort when you’re young and beautiful. As crow’s feet appear, or hairlines recede or other evidence of aging sprout, vanity’s there, elbowing you in the ribs to try this cream and that lotion, this hair dye and that teeth whitener, this cellulite cream and that flabby-arms toning exercise, all in the quest to leave you looking relaxed, glowing, happy, and a picture of fertile, youthful health.

I think we shouldn’t just stop there. Wherever you find yourself in the vanity continuum (from applying cosmetics to being a health nut), if you’re going to get something out of your vanity, you have to embrace it to the hilt. No more half-way measures in hiding wrinkles, under-eye circles, sallow complexion or white hair. No more quick fixes that only do a half-assed job of presenting us as beautiful, vital, vibrant, alert and healthy. Embrace wholeheartedly your inner shallowness and instead of the appearance of beauty and youth and happiness, become beautiful, youthful and happy.

Turns out that to do that, you will have to lead a life of inner and external harmony, compassion for your fellow beings, cultivating wisdom in terms of understanding how your body works, how your mind works, and how your emotions work — and continually giving yourself your best in all three areas (which by the way, would include balanced exercise, meditation, and mind-expansion through good reading and good company), and discernment in how to spend your time in a way that keeps your needs and wants balanced.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got my hands full with that. Buddhism, yoga, all other Eastern and Western approaches to total growth, here I come! Every time I see myself in a mirror, it will remind me to sleep well, eat well, lead a life of balance, grow in every area and develop my capacity to be more loving – and people will remark how youthful and beautiful and healthy and happy I look!

Except when I get there, I’ve a feeling I won’t care what other people say nor how things look from the outside. Just how they feel from the inside.

So, how about it? Vanity as a Spiritual Pathway?

Picture credit: Anthony Catalano

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