One wintry morning, in an arcade near the metro station of Washington DC, a world-famous musician played 6 exquisite classical compositions on his world-class violin passionately. As he drew his bow across the strings, 1,097 people passed by on their way to work. For 3 suspenseful minutes, nothing happened. 63 people rushed by, oblivious to the violinist’s powerful rendering. On the third minute, a middle-aged gentleman turned his head as he walked by.
About 30 seconds later, the violinist received his first dollar from a woman on the run. On the sixth minute, a young man leaned against the wall, listened for three minutes, then left for work. At the ninth minute, a three-year-old wanted to stop but his mom hurried him off. But the musician played on. One man stayed nine minutes, rapt, unable to move. He felt listening to this beautiful performance “was a brilliant, incredible way to start the day.” A lady who was equally mesmerised whispered to another listener, “I really don’t want to leave.”
In those spellbinding 45 minutes, 7 people paused to drink in this musical elixir, 27 gifted money (a total of $ 32.17) and only one woman recognised the musician — the renowned Joshua Bell whose solo concert commands $100 per seat to packed houses and $1,000 a minute for gatherings. Now, Joshua stopped playing. Silence reigned. And this woman walked up to him with a ‘hello’ of smiling recognition.
I learnt a new word from this social experiment by The Washington Post — ‘koyaanisquatsi’, meaning ‘life out of balance’ in Hopi. If the Washington Metro experiment reflects a microcosm of our typical urban life, it means a whopping 97.54% of a city’s population lives a ‘koyaanisquatsi’. Yes, life does need to be balanced with many beautiful, wondrous, inspiring moments — the Bell Moments, the hush of delight in the rush without giving a ‘squatsi’ for the mundane.
In fact, you should expand your health beyond exercise, diet and medicine. Hitch it to freezing time as you lose yourself in the grandeur of music, the magnificence of a landscape, the rich prosody and poetry of words of masters. Borrow beauty if you cannot create it. While the mind soaks itself in beauty, an inner disfigurement gets corrected, our autonomic nervous system and neurodocrine pathways light up like a thousand stars and optimism surges. The deep indrawn breath of joy is the pranayam of the soul. It’s imperative not to stifle it. Allow the happiness to spread inside — a warm honey of wellness.
Most people become ill by building their lives around overworking, over-eating, demanding relationships, watching numbing TV shows and so on. Is it any wonder then that arteries, nerves, blood vessels and the immune system itself get congested and constricted? But when we change our priorities and actively engage with beauty, pause to listen to the song of the wind, cooing of birds, feel the soft healings of dawn and dusk, the constricted system expands and all that is congested gets cleared while all that is weak, strengthens. The secret is not to look for excitement, but for deep abiding beauty that makes you alive, expansive, peaceful, elevated rather than merely elated.