Window at the mall

I find it amazing how encountering a certain work of art could change how I see the world almost instantly. This is what I love about reading books, watching films, visiting galleries, and listening to music. When the art and the person behind it are the right ones, this internal world reorganization happens easily.

Since practicing meditation and visiting Nature almost every day, I realized that if I cultivate a daily mindful state, I would feel more at home. I am naturally melancholic. This tendency has always been within me. However, I discovered that through mindfulness, I am able to transform this melancholia into an existential feeling where every single thing I see around me, and every single moment, bursts into a supernova of awe and deep appreciation.

There’s one caveat though—I need a trigger for this to happen. And that trigger is usually a unique and excellent work of art.

This happened to me recently.

I maintain a digital reading inbox using Instapaper. A reading inbox is simply a place where we can save reading materials (usually articles) for future consumption. I subscribe to several newsletters like the one you are reading right now, and I review these at least once a week. Some of the newsletters I am subscribed to, like Austin Kleon’s, contain links to different articles or resources taken from around the Internet. I open these links, take a quick glance through the resource, and if it piqued my interest or if it is related to a project that I am currently doing, I save it on Instapaper.

I usually visit my Instapaper to read when I am on a commute or waiting for someone. Last April, while visiting my girlfriend’s family and waiting for lunch to be served, I decided to open this article from Wired that I saved many months ago. It was entitled The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan. Mind you, many of these articles that I save never make it to reading proper. When they have been left untouched for more than two weeks, I usually delete them as that’s an indication that they’re not that relevant to my current projects. For some reason, I kept this article. I do not know why. It just felt like something I wanted to read later. And I finally read it at that opportunity. And my, was my world changed!

After reading the article, I enjoyed it so much—the words and the photographs alike—that I decided to dig deeper into the author and his work. The writer’s name was Craig Mod, and he has been living in Japan for several decades, the last of which he devoted to walking Japan’s beautiful historical and cultural pilgrimage routes.

On his site, I saw more of his photography and writing. I immersed myself in his love of Japanese culture. Through his work, I felt like Japan, both its breathtaking landscapes and ordinary everyday objects, is an existential paradise, a place where I am reminded of the miracle that is living every single moment.

Suddenly, I was reconnected to a similar feeling, a similar state of mind, I had in the past—during a trip to Coron, Palawan. While riding a boat home after a day of island hopping, I looked far over the horizon. The sun has not yet fully descended, but clouds were covering it, leaving a dim warm yellow light that illuminated the waters. I saw the vastness of it all, the little waves over a quiet ocean making tiny silent movements, with only the boat’s motor to be heard in the background. At that moment, I felt the oneness and interconnectedness of everything. And that was the time I was still reading Jeff Foster and exploring Advaita Vedanta. I no longer read him nor agree with his philosophy, but my inner world was similarly reorganized at that time, much like I recently experienced with Craig Mod.

What happens after this reorganization is that I usually go about my day, chugging along with my usual activities, but noticing every little nuance—a tiny maya perched on a branch of a tree, a simple window that created a beautiful frame of a scene outside, a leaf twirling around as it hanged on a thread of spider web, and a broken street light that blinks. All of these, I notice, and I can’t stop it. It is as if my senses are heightened and I pay attention easily to almost everything but noise and distraction. I am ever-present, ever mindful.

Whenever this happens, I am more motivated to take photos and write. I become more existential and, therefore, philosophical. I think better and insights come easier. This combination of deep experience of the world and careful meditative thinking creates a rich experience that I try my best to keep as possible.

And this is exactly what Thoreau did and represented. Like Craig Mod, Thoreau has deeply affected how I see the world and my work. Thoreau was so effective in balancing experience and thought. In the morning he wrote—eventually exclusively about the things he saw in his walks. And I would assume that this was also the time he delved into philosophy and the field of ideas. This was the time he dedicated to getting familiar with his own thoughts—“the children of his mind” as he called them. He cultivated his intellectual and mental process in the morning and cultivated mindfulness, attention, and awe—by taking very long walks and taking notes—in the afternoon until evening.

Craig Mod, with his body of work, has done something similar. He is somehow a modern-day Thoreau. He doesn’t have that many books as Thoreau had nor is he very interested in philosophy as Thoreau was, but like Thoreau, he walks, takes pictures, takes notes, talks to people along the way, and cultivates presence, savoring, and mindfulness—things that even science says will make us happy.

Knowing how great art—no, let’s rephrase that, honest, authentic, joyful art—could completely change how people experience their lives and the world should be enough motivation for any artist to keep going in a path where the destination is not always easy to see.