What is Greater Than Ourselves?

In the 2000’s we’ve become very introspectiBallerina512px-Dancer_with_iPod,_Prix_de_Lausanne_2010ve people, and some may say even narcisstic, as we gaze into our cell phones and tablets, and listen to our iPods.  We carry our electronics with slavish attachment, hiding our heads in the devices much like an ostrich hides its head in the sand. The ballerina to the right may be listening to her music pre-performance, but sometimes we depend on our devices too much, and can lose ourselves along the way.

We miss much around us, as we cross the street reading email. We look down, rather than up, as we scrutinize our selfie’s. We’ve gotten lost in smartphones that do everything for us, except cement relationships and experiences in real time.

I’m just as guilty as the rest of us, but while it is fabulous to have these devices, it is also a troubling trend. As we journey electronically inward, I fear we will lose sight of our place in the world. We need to get our heads out of that electronic sand, and come up for air once in a while to appreciate that place, and those things that are “larger than life.”

Things that are larger than life tell humanity that we are subject to greater powers and experiences. This knowledge is important to keep us outside of ourselves and “in the world.” Sure, technology keeps us connected, but sometimes we have to stop, and gaze at a sunset, for goodness sake. This is a moment of life, and, we are missing these things as we walk along with a headset and a downloaded tune.

What are “larger than life” experiences?  There are many out there; however, I chose to focus on three that I believe encompass the most awe: theater, architecture and nature.

TheaterHepburn_long_days_journey_into_night

Theater, whether it is Broadway, a ballet, an opera, or a film, brings us out of ourselves for a few hours. Here, we feel empathy for characters, ponder tragedies we may never meet, rejoice with happy endings – and we experience it all on a stage by proxy as the audience. We have put ourselves, like venerable author, Harper Lee once wrote, “in somebody’s else’s shoes” and we “walk around in them.”

Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in Eugene O’Neill’s, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Theater is living vicariously through other’s drama, foibles, comedy, or merely the human condition, one in which we may share understanding in a larger than life experience. Character, Mary, in Eugene O’Neill’s play, “A Long Day’s Journey into Night,” experiences torment with addiction and the breakdown of a family.  We watch the drama enfold onstage, or in the film, and are emotionally pulled into the story.  We are grateful, however, as we watch, that we share a much smaller version of family discord in the real world.  Theater brings us out of ourselves, and into somebody else’s life. Theater can make us laugh, or cry, but also makes us think, as the narrative addresses issues greater than ourselves.

ArchitectureNotre Dame512px-GothicRayonnantRose003

If you have ever gone into one of the great cathedrals of the world, you already know what I mean.   To enter through a set of decorative, metal doors that dwarf a group of tourists gives us more than a sense of awe. To gaze at the incredibly high ceilings, large stained glass windows – works of art in themselves – and ponder the gothic structures inside and out, inspires, but also gives you a feeling that you are not as important as you thought.  Something greater is going on here, and the flying buttresses and the stained-glass tell its biblical story to demonstrate it all.

There is something greater than you out there. Whether it is religion, or that architectural behemoth that dazzles in a different manner, there is a grandeur that reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. A large church is a visual representation of not only a building, but of a greater religious idea.  Our cell phones seem insignificant when we gaze at such grandeur and reverence built sometime in the middle ages.

Nature

Kobe512px-Kobe_port_island02s3200That aforementioned sunset returns. We only seem to stop to gaze at one when we are on vacation. Within the living of our daily lives, we just don’t have the time. Dinner has to be made, the kids have homework, we have to watch our taped television show. Life goes by, and we miss that larger than life sunset that inspired so many great painters. And, the show is there every day. And it’s free.                                                   The Kobe bridge at sunset in Japan

When we see a field of flowers of one color, just as Wordsworth did, we ponder how much more to life there is than our iPads. Yes, we can capture that field of Wordsworth’s yellow daffodils in a photo taken from the device, and always remember.  Do we live the experience though while it’s happening, or, are we too concerned with the focus, and angle of the photo?

Head in the Sand vs. Larger then Life

There are other “larger than life” experiences, as well.  Volunteering is one. Working at a soup kitchen, or reading to critically ill patients in a hospital can be a life-changing experience, that brings us out of our smaller lives, and expands them.  Experiencing art in many forms can make us feel the larger scope of civilization’s achievements.  Standing in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre can show how close we are to a painter, Leonardo DaVInci, who once stood merely a few feet away, creating his masterpiece.

Whether it be the ocean, a baby’s face, the antics of a kitten, the majesty of a mountain, or the experience of art, theater or film, we emerge from our introspection, and extend ourselves to those experiences that helps us grow. It’s a growth mindset that makes us reach out, and claim that moment. It brings us back to a place of childhood wonder. We all remember that childhood wonder is a place that was always “larger than life.”

Keeping connected is not all about the devices; it is connectivity with humanity. Go out and find it.

Look up.

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References:

Lee, H. (1960. 2002) To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins Perennial.

Ballerina – Listening to iPod By Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Long Day’s Journey into Night By Trailer distributed by Embassy Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Notre Dame Cathedral By Krzysztof Mizera, changed by Chagler and MathKnight (Based on File:Rozeta Paryż notre

Sunset Kobe, japan By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photos are from WIkimedia Commons and are in the public domain

June 14, 2016

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