If we can do just this: be still, open ourselves, and say that inner Yes…then that splendor breaks forth without limit. Only our own limitations determine the measure in which we are able to accept it.

Br. David Steindl-Rast

Welcome to Day Four of Awaken to Awe

If we’re lucky, we get at least one moment in our lives when the incredible artistic creation of other humans stuns us with its creativity, complexity, vision, and sheer beauty. We get to see the sunlight streaming through the intricate stained glass high in a cathedral wall, gaze up from the base of a Mayan pyramid, stand mere steps from a Van Gogh masterpiece, or hear the musician we’ve wanted to hear our whole lives — our Yo-Yo Ma or Aretha Franklin, our Andrea Bocelli or Prince. Such encounters are nothing short of transcendent. Our knees go weak, our eyes burn with tears. Somehow, through these great artistic creations, we’re connected not only to the magnificence of the art itself but to everyone who has ever stood where we’ve stood, seen what we’ve seen, sung the songs we’re hearing, singing, or playing. We are in awe.

Begin today by choosing a piece of music that you find particularly moving. Whether you select a choral masterpiece or rock anthem, a jazz classic or hymn, take a moment to check in with how you’re feeling right now: How’s my mood, my stress level, my general sense of well-being? Once you’ve had a moment to reflect, put your music on, get comfortable, and allow the sound and vibration to wash over you. If useful, here are a few of our musical favorites:

If listening to music is not the best option for you, enjoy selecting some other awe-inspiring artistic creation and savor its beauty, complexity, artistry, or message. You may have many compelling creations and/or photographs of inspirational art all around you. For something different, try a virtual museum tour:

Once you’ve taken time to experience your choice of music or other artistic creation with all of your available senses, simply allow yourself to be present to any feelings of awe that arise. Consider this: How is my state of mind and heart now, compared to before I listened or watched?

Today’s Practice

When we’re living gratefully, our senses are open to all that life offers. We not only learn to pay greater attention to the gifts of the natural world and everyday life, we also deepen our appreciation for the creative expressions of humanity, some of life’s greatest splendors. You may love a symphony over a rock concert, or vice versa, but aren’t both extraordinary?! You may be moved by dance over sculpture, architecture over poetry, but isn’t it incredible that all these things exist for our enrichment, reflection, and often great pleasure? Taking time to savor these amazing creations is an act of gratefulness — one with a direct line to awe. 

Say yes to the splendors of life by making time for three experiences of art-inspired awe in your day: 

  • Plan. Take a look at your day and consider what you have time for. Maybe you have three 5-minute windows you can devote to this practice. Maybe you have an entire afternoon! Plan accordingly.
  • Select. Decide on three things you can do today to fully enjoy art forms that open the door to feelings of awe. These will be deeply personal choices, of course, but your list might include listening to music that makes your heart soar or amazes you with its complexity, visiting a nearby gallery or museum, looking at photos of an incredible piece of art you got to see up close on a special trip, digging out an old concert t-shirt that reminds you of the awe you felt standing side by side with friends at an extraordinary show. 
  • Enjoy. Once you have your three, schedule your awe-through-art moments for the day, and enjoy!

At the end of the day, take some time for reflection:

  • How did it feel to pause throughout my day to say yes to the splendors of art and music? Take a moment to appreciate the extraordinary fact of these creations and the ability to listen, see, or remember them.
  • How might making more time for the art and music I love open me more fully to the possibility of awe?
  • As I look ahead at the next month, is there an art or music experience I can plan for and share with a friend? Where might I tap into a collective experience of awe?

Share Your Reflection: Please share your insights and reflections in the Community Conversation space below. Don’t forget that you can also respond to others’ posts.

Deepening Resource

Susan Cain, TED Conversation (mins 1:23 – 5:00)

In this 3.5-minute excerpt of a longer TED-hosted conversation, international bestselling author (and recent guest in our Grateful Grief course) Susan Cain shares her thoughts on how all artistic and creative expressions, including our own, are manifestations of a longing to connect with something transcendent.

Her words are a reminder of the importance of expressing our own creativity in addition to enjoying the splendors of human creation offered by others.

Research Highlight

In their 26-country study, Dacher Keltner and his team found that people across cultures experienced music as bringing them “moments of clarity, of epiphany, of truth, of really knowing their place in the great scheme of life.” Keltner writes, “When we listen to music that moves us, the dopaminergic circuitry of the brain is activated, which opens the mind to wonder and exploration. In this bodily state of musical awe, we often tear up and get the chills, those embodied signs of merging with others to face mysteries and the unknown… Music breaks down the boundaries between self and other and can unite us in feelings of awe.”

In cities that were judged to “be more evocative of visual awe,” residents reported “more robust health, even after controlling for income and local levels of pollution.” 

(AWE: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life)

Photo by Daniel