What's More Important:
to Appreciate Rightly or Be Praised?
By Lynette Abel
When I began to have Aesthetic Realism
consultations in 1972, I learned that "The purpose of life is to like the
world, and that is another way of saying to appreciate the world."
Growing up in Alexandria,
Virginia, I felt pretty early that the most important thing was how much
I was appreciated. I was to learn years later the reason I often
felt anxious, and also dull inside was because I was going after “an addition
to self through the lessening of something else.” In his lecture
Realism and Appreciation Eli Siegel explained:
"When a person doesn't like himself,
one of the chief reasons is that he has failed to appreciate what he should
appreciate…. To appreciate rightly is success in life."
Is a Fight between Appreciation and Contempt
As a child, I loved the white and pink flowering
dogwood trees in our yard. And from as early as I can remember, my
parents encouraged my five brothers and sisters and me to appreciate music.
For many years our family spend Friday evenings singing popular songs.
Meanwhile, at five years old I got so much praise for singing “It’s a Sin
to Tell a Lie,” that I didn’t feel I needed to learn many other songs--I
was such a hit whenever I sang that one. I used the appreciation I got
to be conceited, not to feel I needed to appreciate or be fair to other
people and things in the world.
One thing I liked
very much was swimming, and when I was 11, I joined the Mt. Vernon Swimming
Team. I loved to swim the butterfly. I learned from Aesthetic
Realism the reason this stroke affected me so much was because of how it
puts opposites together--power and grace, freedom and order, surface and
depth--opposites I wanted to put together in my life. When arms and
legs move precisely, it makes for a beautiful undulating motion as the
body moves through water. I became proficient at swimming--winning
events and championships. But again I used the praise I received
to feel superior. Many mornings when I came to the pool for practice,
the Chester family of five children would be swimming laps, hoping to make
the team. I remember thinking scornfully, "They can practice all
they want, but they'll never be as good as me." Years later in an
Aesthetic Realism class Eli Siegel said to me:
"The most important thing is
whether we feel it is wise to be fair to another person....The danger of
having contempt is 5-alarm....Don't get any importance from having contempt.
Once you do, [you should worry] because contempt that makes for one's importance
is the one poison that is attractive as anything."
I didn't know then, that the "importance" I felt
looking down on other people, was the reason I felt terrifically unsure
of myself. And when I won an event, often I felt ashamed and would
uncomfortably shrug it off, when persons congratulated me. "What
most people don't see,” Mr. Siegel explained in his lecture, “is that in
the process of being unfair to the thing that could be appreciated, they
are also unfair to themselves, and they also feel guilty."
I did feel guilty,
but as I was in high school and college, I thought that if I just got enough
approval, I would feel like a success. I took it as great appreciation
of me that my mother didn't like most of my girlfriends, and later boyfriends.
I secretly agreed with her that nobody was good enough for me--and felt
the way she saw me as special was my due from everyone, especially men.
When I began to see
Mark, I wasn't interested in knowing who he was, but in how devoted he
was to me. And when he acted as if his life depended on whether I
smiled at him or frowned, I thought this must be love. But soon I had a
feeling of doom and intense dislike of myself and Mark and ended our relationship.
With each year I
became more bitter, and worried whether I was capable of loving anyone.
Then, when I was 23, I began to study Aesthetic Realism. In a lesson
I had with Eli Siegel, he explained: "Before you can be affected truly,
you have to ask, 'What is it I truly want to love, I'm truly proud to love?'...We
like people in proportion to the fuss they make about us. And is
that a good basis of judgment?” “No, it isn’t,” I replied.
class, he asked me: "Do you know why women get sorrowful in marriage?
They feel as the marriage goes on they are less affected--'My husband doesn't
mean as much to me now as he used to.' Do you think that is success?
"No, failure, I answered. And he explained: "You're not sure.
To get as much as possible and be as little affected as possible--that
is the magic people want....Aesthetic Realism says when you are less affected
than you could be you [are foolish], because to be affected is success."
In these years, my appreciation of the world has grown--including through
poetry, the flute, and through knowing other people, including my husband
Michael Palmer, whom I love very much.
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