Recapturing The Feeling of Awe For Life: Using Art To Appreciate Existence

“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.” 
― Richard Dawkins

I haven't had a spare moment to write today until now unfortunately but I wanted to write a quick blog post. I've been thinking about "awe" lately. There was a time when the feeling of awe, the majesty of existence, was a natural feeling for me. I could see the beauty of the drift of autumn leaves in a light breeze or the wonder of the sunset over the ocean and feel appreciative that I existed even if I was suffering at the moment. And I was acutely aware of my own mortality, which strangely made me more appreciative for each moment. 

I've somehow lost that feeling over the years. I think some of that is that I don't put in a conscious effort to feel that awe anymore. Not meditating as much as I used to is a big part of this. And the truth is it takes work and constant reminders to know that I am alive and that my experience is special. And to be honest, I feel like my iPhone has done unmitigated damage to me in that respect. I spend too much time looking at my screens (as I am now), and I forgot to look and enjoy the beauty of existence. 

Art As A Way To Appreciate Existence

But occasionally I am awakened and feel a sense of awe for existence. It happens more rarely, but it is usually art that that stirs me. Maybe it's a beautiful song. Or a melancholy movie. Or a poem that reflects on the what it means to be in this moment. 

A friend of mine sent me a New Yorker article on the poet, Mary Oliver, today. It was a good read, and it made me reread some of my favorite works of hers. One poem, "The Swan," felt particularly relevant. I've pasted it below for you to read. The last two lines are reminiscent of the best of Rilke and will shatter you. It left me with a deep religious feel for how special it felt to exist. 

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?