I was walking through a small village on the Camino one afternoon—enjoying and appreciating all the beauty—when I noticed several villagers going about what looked like just another day. I wondered what it was like for them to live in such a magical place, to be surrounded by all this beauty day after day. Do they still see how extraordinary it is? Or are their eyes so accustomed to the beauty that it becomes dull and mundane?
As for me, there was nothing dull or mundane about my Camino. It was as if I looked at life, at myself, and the world through a different lens…one that made every encounter meaningful, every moment magical, every experience inspiring. Was everything really so significantly different or were my eyes different?
It dawned on me that traveling brought forth a very different mindset; I was looking for the beautiful, I was expecting the miraculous. But we don’t have to travel a great distance to experience and appreciate the many gifts our life and world have to offer. We can witness beauty on our way to work. We can get inspired in our back yard. We can be touched by someone we see day after day. We simply need to take notice. Because beauty doesn’t fade…it is our eyes that are fading.
Watching the villagers reminded me of the experiment the Washington Post conducted in 2007. The newspaper placed a fiddler at a major Washington DC metro station and asked him to play the violin while reporters observed and recorded by-passers’ response to the music. In the 45 minutes that the fiddler played, more than 1,100 people walked by, but only seven (!) stopped for at least a minute to enjoy the performance. When asked upon exiting the station, many people didn’t even recall their path crossed a musician, only a few feet away.
But the musician, that fiddler dressed in jeans and t-shirt, was Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world. Typically, Bell’s talents are appraised at up to $1,000 a minute. That day at the metro, playing an incredibly difficult piece on one of the most valuable violins ever made bought Bell a total of $32.17 in donations.
In the concert hall, people are willing to pay $100 to listen to Joshua Bell. They listen very attentively to the phenomenal virtuoso, because they expect nothing but sheer brilliance. But that day at the metro, Bell, whose music was once said to do “nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live”, didn’t draw even a fraction of attention. Because people were too busy to listen.
When we expect the beautiful, the beautiful prevails. When we anticipate the magical, the world is filled with magic. When we assume the extraordinary, it is right here, in front of our eyes. We can choose to be more attentive—we can choose to look at every day and every encounter with fresh eyes. Because, if we are completely oblivious to the fact that we just walked by one of the finest musicians of our time, if we don’t see left or right, if we’re always connected and dozens of stimuli fight for our mind’s attention at any given moment—is there more that we’re missing?
In this modern, technological era—where our eyes are so tired they get blind, our minds are so cluttered they’re saturated, our hearts are so neglected they become numb—we need to make time for beauty and inspiration. We need to prioritize our desire to be moved by people and by our experiences. People who get sick or face the risk of losing a loved one instantly develop this mindset. They lose the sense of the mundane and find inspiration in the littlest things. Their eyes are open, because their circumstances make them realize that there’s nothing that should be taken for granted. It is a choice, a priority, a decision that we all do or don’t make.
We can have a world-class violinist play in the middle of a busy metro station, and we can bypass him without ever knowing that he or his music existed. And by doing so, we confine ourselves and the world we live in to a smaller and smaller box.
We need to be in the mind to notice. And we know we can do that, because our eyes fill with wonder every time we travel to a far-off land or watch the world through the eyes of a child. Every time a child walked by Bell, they tried to stop and watch. But every time, they were pushed by their parents to continue.
We can live life in great wonder through the excited eyes of a traveler or a child, or we can let life pass by with tired eyes that had seen it all. To really get in the habit of appreciating life, we need to make time for life. We need to allow ourselves to be moved by the wonders of this world. And we need to assume it is no less than miraculous and extraordinary. Because magic and beauty abound.