I came across these words in an article this morning: “powerful, significant, and elevating.”
In fact, those words feel just right when it comes to seeking meaning in life – beyond the material and the mechanical, or the daily routine that may be pleasant enough, yet we feel we’re missing something.
Couldn’t we say that everyone seeks meaning in their own way? Aren’t most of us brimming with ideas and idealism as children? Isn’t that the time when imagination floats freely – and with it – a naive sort of power?
But life tosses us obstacles. So we navigate, we mature, we compromise, and we learn. If we’re lucky, we retain imagination and enthusiasm though we carry our heavy load of adult responsibilities.
Making Meaning of Adversity
For some, events may stop us cold – even as children. Or, they stall us for a time, we work through them, and we keep going as best we can, guided by those who love and care for us.
Sometimes, we’re guided by something else – some other source. Perhaps it’s spiritual. Perhaps it’s creative. Whatever it is, we find it “powerful, significant, and elevating.”
Those words? I read them in a column on Huffington Post, by Michael B. Friedman, LMSW, writing on Art and Mental Health. Mr. Friedman speaks to our search for meaning, enjoyment, and connection. The arts are one way to find that connection, whether through participation or observation.
Explaining how visual art may serve those who are “healthy” as well as those who suffer mental disorders, he points out:
…everyone who appreciates some sort of art experiences through it something powerful, significant, and elevating.
And in my own experience, I wholeheartedly agree.
I’m not sure whether we choose our passions or they choose us. What I do know is that I’m grateful to know my passions, and they are two-fold: writing and visual art. I “make” the former, and experience the latter.
When I am sorrowful, uncertain, disoriented or out of sorts, I turn to words to write out the emotions and make sense of them. In doing so, I also make sense of me. When I am joyful, excited, content – I also write out the experience – as a way to snapshot the moments and to feel them more fully.
When I’m standing in front of a gorgeous work of art? I am transported. If I ache, I’m consoled. If I’m fatigued, the colors and surfaces energize me.
For some, this may seem odd. For me, it’s a natural form of healing, learning, and celebrating. The experience is undeniably “powerful, significant, and elevating.”
In the first years after divorce, my younger son withdrew into himself. He wasn’t a talkative child to start with, but he was a happy one – always a crayon or pencil or brush in hand. And that changed. His quiet was heavier and unsettling. The self-portraits he drew took a darker turn; sketch after sketch revealed a child who was angry, bewildered, and bereft.
As a mother, I could only observe, hold him in my arms at night, and reassure him by participating in the refrain that threaded through our days for years: “I love you Mom,” he would say, to which I would respond, “I love you, too, Sweetie.”
Through his art, I was able to gauge what he couldn’t put into words. I was able to see the progression through his grieving the loss of our “stable family,” and over time his art reflected healing. I was relieved when the self-portraits took a more playful turn, and his subject matter included comic characters, his larger world of school and friends, and his former sense of humor.
Art and Well-Being
Art may not be your thing. Writing may not be your thing. Perhaps you find music transcendent, or dance, or some other creative outlet.
For me – and clearly for my son – our soothing art is visual. It is a channel for sadness as well as exuberance. It is a way to be fully in a moment, and also to come to terms with it.
Mr. Friedman goes on to say:
The contributions that art can make to psychological well-being via enjoyment, immersion, development of skill, revelation and expression of emotion, shaping of self, connections with people and a culture, and the potential for transcendent experience apply both to people without mental disorders and those with mental disorders…
In my own life, I’ve certainly experienced what he’s describing. I recommend this beautiful column, not only as it explores the interaction of creativity and well-being, but it opens up the line of questioning as to what each of us finds “powerful, significant, and elevating.”
And once our basic needs are met, don’t we all seek that?