Redesign Your Mind: What’s Life Without a Little Grandeur

We tend to associate the word “grandeur” with events like royal weddings and sights like the Grand Canyon. Hotels are grand, canals are grand, and cruise ships are grand. But something about that way of thinking prevents us from demanding grandeur from the other stuff of existence, like an image that we craft, a jam […]

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We tend to associate the word “grandeur” with events like royal weddings and sights like the Grand Canyon. Hotels are grand, canals are grand, and cruise ships are grand. But something about that way of thinking prevents us from demanding grandeur from the other stuff of existence, like an image that we craft, a jam that we jar, or a kiss that we give. For more reasons that we can count, grandeur isn’t very present in our daily lives.

In all the meetings that I’ve ever attended—faculty meetings, business meetings, meetings of therapists, and meetings of artists—I’ve never heard anyone say, “What’s wanted is a little more grandeur.” Have you? On the long list of things discussed when people gather, grandeur never appears. There are no parties honoring it, no organizations devoted to it, no lobbyists buttonholing members of Congress and whispering, “Support the grandeur bill and we’ll make it worth your while!”

I remember sitting in a sterile coffee-break room in a suite of offices, writing by hand before the class I taught began. In a corner of the room were some boxes of computer parts. There was a soda machine, a microwave, a copy machine, a fire extinguisher, a sink, a wastepaper basket, and a metal cabinet for office supplies. The walls were a dull blue-gray, the round table at which I sat was the same dull blue-gray, and so were the chairs and the floor. 

But on the wall across from me was a poster of a Manuel Neri oil-on-paper called Alberica No. 1. It portrayed a woman with a blue face, a yellow torso, and burgundy legs. The top half of the background was a brilliant yellow and the bottom half was a striking blue. If I hadn’t had it or something like it on the wall to look at, I would surely have died of grandeur deprivation in a room like that.

Think about your own life. What last stirred feelings of grandeur in you? Was it something you saw on the commute to your day job, some reality show episode, or something you experienced at a meeting? Probably not. My hunch is that you were last stirred by music, a film, a passage in a book or a piece of art. You stopped, listened to the music, and said to yourself “How beautiful!” or “How powerful!” or “This is good stuff!” You were transported. In the back of your mind you whispered “I should be creating and doing work this strong.” You said to yourself, but maybe not in such a way that you could hear the message clearly, “Without this beauty I would die.”

The painter Max Beckmann once said, “All important things in art have always originated from the deepest feeling about the mystery of Being.” I think that this sentiment comes close to capturing the origins of our sense of grandeur. We are built to appreciate mystery, to harbor deep feelings, to contemplate the universe with its marvelous quirks and distinguishing features. To bring less than all of this to life is to bring only a shadow of our inheritance. Without a Neri on the wall, Mozart in the air or Dostoevsky in our hands we would wither away, no matter how good the benefits and stock options at our day job. We need grandeur to survive.

You can remind yourself of this necessity by installing a grandeur corner in your mindroom. Here you freely and deeply hold the intention to create something powerful, beautiful, admirable, meaningful, resonant, and grand. Here you remind yourself that grandeur is available and that you can create it yourself. What is actually in such a corner? That’s for you to decide. Maybe it’s filled with music. Maybe on a chalkboard is the scientific formula that always stirs you. Maybe you’ll choose items that evoke feelings of awe, grandeur and mystery. What do you think?

Nothing in your grandeur corner may look grand in any traditional sense. I’d be surprised if you installed marble staircases and velvet drapes. You might even find very homey objects there: a stone from a river bed, a whimsical doll, a door somehow made grand by its layers of peeling paint. Create your grandeur corner now. Visit the room that is your mind, look around, pick a suitable nook or corner, and fill it in such a way that what you experience as you face it is grandeur. 

By redesigning your mind, you give yourself the opportunity to honor aspects of existence that usually get overlooked as you rush through life. Grandeur is one of those aspects of existence. On an ordinary day, life can be drab, unexciting, and uninviting. There may nothing at all “out there” able to promote a feeling like grandeur. That being the case, you will have to promote such feelings from within. Create your grandeur corner and pencil experiencing it onto your calendar.

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