Shortly before 8:00 a.m. on a brisk January work day in 2007, a man dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap began to play the violin in a Washington DC Metro station. Over 1000 people passed by in the next 45 minutes, during which time the musician played six Bach pieces, his open violin case at his feet with a few coins and dollar bills placed inside.
Out of the multitude of passersby, a mere six people stopped to listen to the performer. 27 individuals dropped money in the case but proceeded to walk on at their normal pace. Before concluding his concert (to no applause), the man collected $32 and change — not counting the $20 donated by one woman who recognized the musician’s identity.
It turns out that the violinist was none other than Joshua Bell, one of the greatest classical musicians in the world, who played several of the most exquisite pieces ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days prior, Mr. Bell sold out the Symphony Hall in Boston, with tickets averaging $100.
The subway event had been organized by Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people’s priorities. Would people be so focused on their personal or professional concerns that they would be oblivious to such talent and beauty? The answer was, for the most part, yes.
How much beauty are you missing out on in your daily life? And what can you do to wake up to the magic all around you?
First of all, choose to look for beauty. As the saying goes, “You’ll see it when you believe it”. Some ideas:
- Listen to chirping birds, ocean waves, the burbling waters of a stream, or the wind.
- Leave a few minutes early for work, and instead of your usual commute, try a scenic route.
- Gaze at the sky, clouds, trees, and flower gardens. Watch a sunrise or sunset.
- Buy some binoculars and study the various birds in your neighborhood.
- Visit an art museum. Pick several pieces of art to view in detail. What do you find attractive or intriguing?
- Attend a musical performance and admire the talent and dedication of the artists.
- Go for a long walk or hike in a tranquil, natural setting. Take in the various scents, sounds, and sights. Consider how the plants and animals grow and adapt to different seasons without strain or strife.
- Read poetry, a classical novel or play. Marvel at the creative use of words and the pictures they paint.
- Go to a sporting event and admire the skill of an elite athlete.
- Take a vacation to a different culture and learn about the various local customs. Recognize the numerous ways that different people find meaning.
- Visit an observatory and peer through a telescope at the universe and beyond. Ponder the wonders of space and your place in the grand scheme of things.
- Light candles scented with essential oils, place them in your bathroom, and take a leisurely bath. Relax and luxuriate in the peace and quiet.
- Gaze into the eyes of those close to you. Marvel at your loved ones’ existence and unique gifts.
- Notice the precious sound of children (of all ages) laughing.
Secondly, create beauty.
- Instead of dashing off a hasty e-mail message, purchase some pleasing stationery and pen a kind personal note.
- Take up gardening. Plant flowers in your backyard or on your balcony.
- Learn to play a musical instrument.
- Prepare a meal with care and attention. Set the table in a pleasing manner, place the food attractively on the plate, play soft music in the background, and relish your meal, without distractions. Consider the farmers and merchants who contributed to the ingredients in your feast. Be thankful.
- Go to the farmers market or grocery store and purchase cut flowers for your home.
- Buy beautiful pens, pens with your favorite color ink, Post-Its in unusual shapes or with fun or inspirational quotes, to keep in your home or work office.
- Choose an attractive, soothing, or personally meaningful wallpaper for your computer.
- Join a local community choir.
- Go caroling during the holidays.
- Bring cookies or other baked goods to your neighbors.
- Smile at people you pass in the street and say hello.
- Bless all you do with love.
Keep a “beauty” journal. At the end of the day, jot down some notes about the beauty you’ve witnessed or created that day. What we focus on expands.