The Blog

Stop and Hear the Music

Despite massive upheavals and not a lot of good news -- financial terror, vast corruption, and global and environmental disaster -- the world is still an infinitely magnificent place.
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Despite massive upheavals and not a lot of good news -- financial terror, vast corruption, and global and environmental disaster -- the world is still an infinitely magnificent place. There is much to celebrate: the unexpected compassion and moral heroism of ordinary people, the dazzling creativity of visionary artists, the beauty of a constantly changing natural world. And most astonishing of all: The remarkable capacity each of us has to rise above what often seems like an un-enchanted world, and live in a richer, fuller way.

I am officially grumpy -- trouble breathing and ceaseless coughing are obscuring my appreciation of a beautiful spring day. The light serenading the trees and the bright red cardinal at the bird feeder are no match for my lingering bronchitis, the "gift" last week of my young grandson and his germy cohorts in pre-K.

In the background I hear the front door open. "Where's grandpa?" my daughter asks -- or is it incites? -- her son. I hear ecstatic shrieking and the rat-tat-tat of footsteps as her 22-month-old dynamo charges toward me.

My crabby mood evaporates as I swoop him airborne and lift him toward the skylight in my office. He gazes at it and then me with total joy and trust, a sacred confidence I never take lightly.

The French door to the backyard has a pane missing -- an informal cat door. My grandson runs over, sticks his hand through it, marveling at his good luck: an actual hole through a door! I open it, compounding his joy.

He runs outside, palms aloft, as if he is communing with raindrops. He turns and runs elsewhere, unfettered. Watching him greet the world wholeheartedly with no agendas or preconceptions, I feel I am privy to a beautiful moment -- freedom dancing.

I am as seduced by conventional beauty as the next guy, but I think we do beauty a disservice by linking it so frequently to glamour and physical attractiveness. If I were a master of the universe, one of my early executive decisions would be to unhypnotize us about beauty and broaden our view of it so that it might include those experiences that galvanize our attention, elicit our appreciation, and remind us of the world's magnificence. Savoring the sights, sounds, and people we encounter, as Walt Whitman did; appreciating the talent and virtuosity of artists, athletes, and performers; and being inspired by the radiance of a splendid character, these -- and others I hope you might think of -- all exemplify beauty's visage.

While beauty can be found almost everywhere, we are often too preoccupied and inattentive to perceive it. And the mandates of adulthood can also hide it. "Grow up. Stop being so immature and childish," I overheard a mother saying to her son in a local park as I played basketball last weekend. Her 6-year-old son was roaming un-self-consciously, tasting the grass, and screeching ecstatically.

Children live in a world of amazement and magic. They delight in what adults rush past. Most adults become divorced from the curiosity and passion of childhood, so that the business of adulthood can get underway as soon as possible.

Grownups focus on earning a living, finding a partner, and raising a family. Adults, unlike the boy in the park, often treat playfulness and exuberance as signs of immaturity, of an inability to grow up and take life seriously. But the wonder and passion many adults forsake, as they become responsible and mature, may create an unconscious melancholy that pervades the life of many grownups.

On a cold January morning in 2007, a young man began playing a violin in a Washington, D.C. Metro Station. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. Approximately 2,000 people passed through the station. After three minutes, a middle-aged man slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds. Six minutes later someone started listening, looked at his watch, and walked away. After 10 minutes a 3-year-old stopped, but his mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This happened with several other children, who were each forced by their parents to move along quickly.

The musician played continuously for nearly an hour. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. After one hour the musician left $32 richer. No one noticed or applauded. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most complex pieces ever written. Two days earlier he sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

We don't have to hunt for beauty because it is always present -- we just have to slow down and take it in. Which I know we can, when we let the child within each of us, full of wonder, look through our eyes. And then the world will become what it has always been: a miraculous splendor of possibility that makes us happy -- even in these scary and confusing times -- to be alive.

For more by Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D., click here.

For more on mindful living, click here.