Tag Archives: experiences

Transcendent Experiences

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Famed journalist, David Brooks, was the featured speaker at a recent conference at Pepperdine, and much of the conversation focused on an op-ed he wrote a year ago in The New York Times titled, “The Big University.”  The thought behind the article is summed up in a single sentence/paragraph:

In short, for the past many decades colleges narrowed down to focus on professional academic disciplines, but now there are a series of forces leading them to widen out so that they leave a mark on the full human being.

Brooks applauded this development and prescribed four tasks for colleges and universities:

  1. Reveal moral options.
  2. Foster transcendent experiences.
  3. Investigate current loves and teach new things to love.
  4. Apply the humanities.

While all four are worthy of reflective conversation, I am particularly drawn to the call to foster transcendent experiences.  Brooks wrote:

If a student spends four years in regular and concentrated contact with beauty—with poetry or music, extended time in a cathedral, serving a child with Down syndrome, waking up with loving friends on a mountain—there’s a good chance something transcendent and imagination-altering will happen.

Yeah, I dig it.

Last week, I was thousands of miles from home in Akron, Ohio, with a couple of unexpected hours and zero plans and somehow ended up hiking through a beautiful park amid the blazing colors of autumn.  The very next day, even farther from home in the heart of Manhattan in New York City, I had more unexpected time to spend while awaiting a meeting in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper and wandered into iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral to experience an early afternoon Mass in that stunning venue.

A peaceful forest.  A majestic cathedral.  Two good choices.  And why did I have to travel so far to make such choices?

Brooks’s encouragement may have simply been intended for college students, but seeing that I feel a little thirsty for transcendence myself, my choices in those two moments make me wonder what might happen if I altered my routines to create “regular and concentrated contact with beauty.”

I just might do it.  And if nothing else, fostering transcendent experiences in my own life might make me more effective in fostering such moments for others.

Take a Look at Yourself

In November, my youngest daughter gave me a little book titled, “Experience Passport: 45 Ways to Broaden Your Horizons” because, in her words, it is my “kind of thing,” which is true. The back cover reads: “Where will today take you? This passport grants you access to life-enriching experiences. Break out of your routine, learn something new, and discover the world of inspiration around you.” Woo hoo! Let’s go!

It was a bumpy start. I asked my daughter to pick a number between one and forty-five to get me going, and she went with thirty-two, which read, “Draw a self-portrait every day for thirty consecutive days. At the end of that time, describe how your portraits evolved.”

Well, I completed that task yesterday, and let’s just say that I discovered the answer to a longstanding question of mine as to whether I could be any uglier. It turns out: Yes.

Most of the self-portraits were tight-lipped because the few times I tried drawing teeth looked like I was conducting electrical experiments inside of my mouth. One night, while watching the local news, an artist rendering of a robbery suspect made me question my whereabouts on December 6, at least according to that day’s self-portrait. My Christmas Day attempt at drawing a Santa hat on my bald head looked a little too much like the Grinch.

So what is so “life-enriching” about drawing terrible pictures of myself for thirty days? Is it that my nose improved (the drawing, that is; the real one remains pretty massive)? Is it that in a mere thirty days my self-portraits are slightly less terrible?

Not too inspiring, eh?

On reflection, however, I think that the exercise is worthwhile simply for the metaphor: Spend thirty days closely scrutinizing yourself, blemishes and all, and if you can handle it, you can more accurately determine how to be a better version of you. You know, Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror, and all that.

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one is apparently a great time for self-reflection, so I encourage you to take a long, hard look at yourself, warts and all, and set out to produce the very best rendition of you. I just spent thirty days trying to do it with a #2 pencil and a sketch pad.

IMG_2325My Best Attempt