Beauty and Wonder: An Invitation into Experience

Do this, if you would: Google “René Magritte, Clairvoyance.” Bring up an image of the painting.* Sit with it for 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes. Five.

Receive it through your heart. Notice its effects on your body. Analyze it with your mind (you probably started doing that the second you saw it. We can’t help it, we humans! However, if that’s where you automatically went, perhaps try accentuating the focus through your heart, your gut).

How does the image relate to your life as it is in this moment? How does it portray your world, or the wider one? What becomes clearer to you? What becomes more complex? What questions arise; what problems are solved? Whom do you feel moved to share it with? How is your life, your world, different for having beheld this painting for just a few minutes? What might change?

The answers may not come in words. Likely they won’t. Still, feel them; let them affect you. Trust that something is happening.

Now go to YouTube or Spotify or wherever you find your music. Look up “Arvo Pärt, Spiegel Im Spiegel.”* Receive the song the same ways: through heart, body and mind. Ask the same questions as above. Notice where those questions lead. Feel into what has been opened, what might be healed.

Do you live near trees? Any at all? If so, later today or tomorrow, please go visit them—be it a cathedral of redwoods or a solitary sidewalk ginkgo dropping its marigold-colored leaves. Listen to the tree with your ears, your heart, your feet. What is it communicating to you? What do you notice about it that you haven’t before? How does it relate to you and to the environment it’s in? How does it reflect your life in this moment? How does it answer what you are in the middle of?

Remember that the answers to these questions might not appear in a language you recognize. It might be a feeling on the backs of your calves. Let it be; let it inform you.

Trusting our senses

Perhaps by engaging in these exercises you can begin to see and feel why beauty and wonder aren’t just helpful, but actually essential to our growth and fulfillment. Below are some resources that talk about why. Read up at your leisure. The point of this post, however, is an invitation to touch into beauty and wonder for ourselves. In that case, maybe you want to skip ahead, get back into experience and save the context for later. Better yet, maybe you can simply trust your ability to understand and transmit this concept from a place beyond words. That said…

Why is beauty important?

NVW founder James Flaherty sums up the importance of these pursuits in our work as Integral Coaches and our experience as human beings in an article titled “Beauty and Kindness.” He says, “We humans need beauty as much as air. Without it we exist only to survive and procreate (our genes, or our ideas, or our beliefs, or our portfolios). In a world driven to mere efficiency, we are in grave danger of forgetting this. We see the results of our forgetfulness at every turn: addictive behaviors, massive greed, devastating cruelty—the symptoms of soul death.”

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2015, scientists looked at the behaviors of people in whom feelings of awe were induced, and found that “inductions of awe increased ethical decision-making, generosity, and prosocial values… enhanced helping behavior and decreased entitlement… These findings indicate that awe may help situate individuals within broader social contexts and enhance collective concern.” In other words, experiences of awe can lead to a life better lived.

Inspired by this study, NVW enrollment director Jessica Phillips invites us to explore and cultivate awe in ourselves and our clients using the Six Streams of Competence—one of the foundational models used in the Integral Coaching method.

This concept is also useful in helping Integral Coaches assess client’s level of development. A person’s relationship to beauty and awe—how much is around them, their pursuit of it—can actually help us gauge this. Is this person present enough in their lives that they can both pursue and be affected by beauty in their lives?

There are lots more fascinating studies and applications of this idea, but for now…

Back to experience

Here’s a final assignment for today. Please go to the Poetry Unbound website and listen to the glorious Pádraig Ó Tuama read the poem “Reconciliation” by Jónina Kirton (for extra credit you can stay and listen to him talk about it). Allow yourself the same kind of interaction that you’ve had with all of the other wonders you’ve beheld.

What has evoked awe in you today? What practices do you have that include or center on beauty and wonder? How might you bring these experiences to bear in supporting someone else in deepening their relationship with life?

*What, no links? Yup, that’s intentional. Moving our bodies toward these works of art—in this case by taking the extra step of looking them up—is part of the experience. It interrupts our programming as passive consumers, our need for instant gratification and convenience. When we move to create an experience for ourselves, it’s more likely that we’ll stay with it a little longer, perhaps let a little more of it in, before moving onto the next thing.

Joy is New Ventures West’s Communications Director. This article was originally published on the Mindful Leader blog in August of 2021.