Once upon a time, a woman so kind, so pure, so lovely that her very name was Beauty was taken prisoner by a hideous Beast. Through time, Beauty grew to love the Beast, and her love transformed him into a prince.
Like all true stories, the tale of Beauty and the Beast may be understood various ways. The first, the most common reading, is that the love of a good woman can turn even a beast into a prince. This is the secret gift of love–that its presence awakens all of us, brings us from darkness into light. When we know we are loved, we know we are free to be our true selves, our most authentic, most wise, most lovable selves. When we feel the touch of love, we are transformed.
Another reading of the story is that the Beast represents a part of Beauty herself, the unknown and denied animal nature within, the subconscious, the primal. To be fully whole and free, Beauty must learn to accept this part of herself, her darkness as well as her light, as we all must. Only by accepting and loving the darker parts of herself can Beauty come into her true power and grace.
But I see an ever greater lesson hidden within this story. As I see it, the Beast represents the whole world, the whole universe.
At the beginning of the tale, Beauty finds herself in a strange world governed, she thinks, by a monster. Everyone else–her family, the townspeople–tells her that the Beast is a monster and that she is not safe with him. When she looks at him, she sees what she expects to see, what everyone has told her to see–a Beast. And yet, the Beast is kind to her. Gentle. He gives her everything she could ever wish for, every comfort, every pleasure. Even, when she asks for it, her freedom. The reality of the Beast is far from Beauty’s expectation, far from the claims of the outside world.
When Beauty finally sees with her own eyes and heart the reality of the Beast’s love, she sees the truth that was there all along–that the Beast is a handsome prince, and that she is his beloved.
Life is much like this. We come into the world terrified, and we learn from our family and friends that the world is a cruel place full of suffering. We are afraid, we think ourselves alone. And yet, if we only open our eyes and our hearts, what do we see? We see trees, oceans, flowers–beauty spread across the earth. We feel the warmth of the sun and feel the arms of our loved ones. We hear the birds sing and children laughing. If we look deeper, trust in love rather than in fear, we see there is no end to the beauty and the love that surround us. We see that even freedom is ours, if we choose it, for the ultimate freedom, the freedom to be our true and authentic selves, has never been denied us. We see the beauty of the world, and we know ourselves beloved, just as Beauty did.
This is the secret: We are Beauty. We are Beloved. But we can only see what we are. We must find the beauty within before we can find it without.