“We come from far away, from terrifying beauty, for a newborn child who opens its eyes for the first time is like a star, is like a sun, but we live our lives amid pettiness and stupidity, in a world of burned hot dogs and wobbly camping tables. The great and terrifying beauty does not abandon us, it is there all the time, in everything that is always the same, in the sun and the stars, in the bonfire and the darkness, in the blue carpet of flowers beneath the tree. It is of no use to us, it is too big for us, but we can look at it, and we can bow before it.”
Karl Ove Knausgaard Spring
This quote by my favourite author is a prime example of literature’s capability to grasp and reveal the ambiguous simplicity of our immediate reality. As Knausgaard says; the painfully beautiful, sublime experiences lie in everything which is always the same. In the constant, infinite beauty that always surrounds us, and that is nevertheless incomprehensible to us and ineffably.
Our daily lives are mundane and routine-based, and the majority of our days we are steering through familiar surroundings and making use of well-known objects, when we transport ourselves from a to z, cook, eat, and work. But the vastness of the universe, and the incomprehensibility of human life is always present. All we have to do is look towards the stars in the sky or contemplate on the time that flows through our lives – always, constantly. However, the ability to do so; to actually look at the sky in awe, or to contemplate on human life conditions is something that we need to exercise and refine.
The ability to wonder is an important part of what German philosopher Friedrich Schiller would call aesthetic education or what Russian artist and philosopher Wassily Kandinsky would describe as spiritual sensitivity. It is possible for everyone to experience beauty and also to have sublime moments, but we can, according to Schiller, be educated aesthetically to become more receptive to such experiences. Both Schiller and Kandinsky hereby emphasise the possibility and importance of cultivating the ability to be receptive to spiritual, aesthetic intuitive experiences. And this ability is a significant part of being a dynamic, openminded, receptive human being.
Stagnation occurs when we lead our lives purely governed by routines and comfort zone providing activities, and when we view things, phenomena and people that clash with our norms as offensively different. In order to develop, continually, we must stay connected with and even cultivate our innate ability to think above the immediately given or out of “the box”, to wonder and, importantly, to be open to beauty and to magic. This ability provides us with experiences that are saturated with meaning and that make us feel at home in the world. Not in an “I am in control of everything in my life”-kind of way, but in the sense that, no matter where we are, whether in familiar settings or in an unfamiliar milieu the ability to be amazed and to meet our surroundings with an open mind and responsive senses will at once ground us and allow us to grow.
However, the ability to wonder and to be open to beauty and magic is not only a question of feeling submissive by the looks of a star filled sky. It is also a matter of being able to be present. Sensuously present, here and now. Of indulging in observing, sensing, feeling and smelling our surroundings. Of finding the magic in our everyday lives.
Children often have this ability. They tend to do what feels natural to them, and they engage immediately in the world. They are able to suppress everything else than what they are in the process of doing, seeing, listening to or eating. They are able to wonder, and to view everyday experiences as little adventures and sensuously fulfilling experiences.
The above photo is a picture of my oldest son’s journal from a two-month Asia trip we did last year. It says:
“Today we saw a cat eating a bird. Firstly, it pulled out its feathers and then it pulled a hole in its stomach and put its head through the hole.”
That day we had visited a beautiful temple and seen traditional dancers, but it was the, to me, seemingly insignificant experience of a cat eating a bird that he chose to write about over dinner in his diary. Why? Well, simply because that experience was more significant and thought-provoking to him than what he had otherwise experienced that day. It was an experience of a life-death drama, which played out right in front of him. He could hear the sounds of the cat pulling the feathers off the bird and biting a hole in its stomach. He probably experienced time standing still for a moment; stunned by the simplicity and the natural primitiveness of the scenario. And of course, when I read the diary, I could understand why this has captured his attentions and thoughts; and his capability to cut through the multitude of sensory input of a day of travelling in a foreign country touched me.
There is magic everywhere. Even though we mostly move through our days in mundane, well-known surroundings, the vastness of the sky and the rhythms of life are always present. Being able to sometimes stop, in awe, noticing the beauty in everything that is always the same nourishes our soul and connects us to the dimension of life that makes up the counter-pole of triviality.