I’ve been presenting a lot of webinars in support of my new book Redesign Your Mind. Folks are responding to many of the ideas in the book, but one has been standing out a little: how little grandeur there is in our lives and how much we need some.
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 make sure to pencil experiencing it onto your calendar.
To learn more about how to redesign your mind, please get your hands on Redesign Your Mind. It’s available as a paperback, an ebook, and an audio book. And who knows, maybe you will experience it as, well, a little grand
You are such a treasure for humanity, Eric. That you for your original thinking and the work you do to bring your amazing insights to us. I’m off to buy this book now!
I think this is beautiful and so true. Beauty is within ..a way of looking into things..feeling …and for the artist expressing it…
This article articulates with such clarity and precision ideas that I have always understood on a deep level but could not formulate.
Thank you, Dr. Maisel, for sharing your inspiring insights!
Very good article to remind myself that like me there are others that want and need .grandeur . Nothing more grandiose than Nature and the Universe and being part of it is only natural to say yes lets bring it to our daily lifes. Let’s do justice to the Universe, let’s not turn our backs to the most amazing creation that we know and are part of.
I’ve been inspired by Bierstadt’s work and the luminists for that reason. They got criticized for that, the feelings of grandeur which their paintings evoke, not for the feelings but for the artifice their detractors will claim they employed. Then I spent a month at Grand Canyon and witnessed a phenomena that Moran had seen which before I had believed was an exaggeration. And I spent a month at Zion and witnessed for a few minutes something like that out of a novel where a shaft of light reveals a hidden entrance. And I visited then painted decades later the scene where Hamilton Hamilton the painter was criticized for exaggerating the height of peaks at Trout Lake and found the criticism false by a museum docent who likely never hiked to Ice Lake on the other side of the thirteeners which surround the lake. Here’s the reason why most painters today don’t paint grandeur in their landscapes; they haven’t seen it because they haven’t waited for it, they haven’t waited for it because they didn’t value what they didn’t expect to see, and if they saw it and didn’t paint it or paint it well then they simply didn’t know how. I’ve never met a genuine artist who had the ability to paint what inspired him which is called grandeur who didn’t want to paint it well. Wanting to do something and having ability to do so are quite different, separated by decades of experience for many of us. This is why you, an accomplished artist, don’t care to hear a beggar’s kind of question, “How long did that take?” I’m going to go learn to flip hamburgers at the fast food place so I can give you the answer you want to hear at $5 an hour and then you can buy it would be a good answer to that question if you want to get booed out of the national park.
Wonderful food for thought, Eric . . . It inspires me to try to do better and I will be sharing it with some friends. Thanks for the inspiration.