What great art does

​My feet are burning. I’m knelt down. Feet tucked under me. My hands are in my lap. The back of my left hand is resting in the palm of my right. My back is straight. My eyes are closed.

This is how I meditate.

But two nights ago, there was a difference. I had headphones plugged in.

I wasn’t listening to trees swaying in the wind, or water flowing down a stream. It wasn’t a guided meditation playing in my ears. It was a song. “Hymn to the Sea”. And it was haunting.

I began to wonder about the people closest to me, what would happen to me if I never saw them again. And then I remembered something. A scene from A Night to Remember, Walter Lord’s account of the sinking of the Titanic

He was describing the struggle of getting the woman and children to board the rescue boats without their men:

     ​“Mrs Isidor Straus also refused to go: ‘I’ve always stayed with my husband; so why should I leave him now?’
     Tonight the Strauses came on deck with the others, and at first Mrs Straus seemed uncertain what to do. At one point she handed some small jewellery to her maid Ellen Bird, then took it back again. Later she crossed the boat deck and almost entered No. 8. – then turned around and rejoined Mr Straus. Now her mind was made up: ‘We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.’
     Archibold Gracie, Hugh Woolner, other friends tried in vain to make her go. Then Woolner turned to Mr Straus: ‘I’m sure nobody would object to an old gentleman like you getting in . . .’
     ‘I will not go before the other men,’ he said, and that was that. Mrs Straus tightened her grasp on his arm, patted it, smiled up at him, and smiled at the group hovering around them. Then they sat down together on a pair of deck chairs.”

​Recalling that scene, the calm with which two people were willing to meet their end, didn’t make me sad. It made me sorrowful.

Sadness is normal. It’s a part of everyday life. Sorrow is something deeper, something bigger. It’s like a dull ache from an old injury that you carry. Except you feel it deep down, so deep that you cannot excavate it. So deep that to examine it’s origins, it’s meaning, it’s significance requires a great effort.

Sometimes a book I’m reading will make me shake. It will make me restless.

I’ll be curled up in my bean bag, scribbling furiously in the margins, folding pages, pausing to think until I can’t take it anymore. Until the pace at which my thoughts are cascading down makes it impossible to sit. Until I have to do something. Until I have to get up and go write about what I’m thinking, or try it, or experiment with it, or tell someone about it.

Sometimes, I’ll be provoked to such outrage, such a sense of anger, that I have to stop reading. The character of Osigi from Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi comes to mind. I don’t think I’ve ever harboured such dislike towards a fictional character.

Sometimes, I’ll hear a talk or watch something that is so celebratory that the next time I step outside, I pay closer attention to the wonders of the world.

I’ll notice the clouds in the sky. I’ll feel the breeze upon my face. I’ll watch the birds soaring to who-knows-where. I’ll stand entranced as the wind whips across the field and makes each individual blade of grass dance.

Great art, be it a song, a picture, a piece of writing, a film, whatever, has this ability. It agitates. It causes a reaction. A reaction that goes beyond the physical and the psychological. Beyond description, beyond expression.

When I write, I try to create it. As a person, I am thankful to experience it. And as your fellow human being, I hope you have experienced it too.