This summer we had the opportunity to check out three of my favorite childhood Canadian rock bands; Chilliwack, Street Heart and Prism. Much older now.  Less hair, voices not quite what they used to be but it didn’t seem to matter – the now ‘old boys’ could still get it done in the Rock’n Roll department!    Each have a huge anthology of songs, and they played a lot of them, and with each hit they belted out, I became acutely aware of distinct and clear memories of my youth.  I found myself smiling at each recollection and for an hour and a half I was transported back to a time before kids, marriage and a mortgage payment.

It wasn’t long though until my inner philosopher, the ‘wonder-er’ in me emerged and began to notice many of the people around me.  I found myself thinking about the different ages, body types, personalities and once again – facilitated by the reality that each person has a story to tell – each, as they were ‘bangin’ their head”, playing air guitar and playing the imaginary drum kit to the music was probably experiencing a plethora of memories – rich with emotion and meaning.

As I watched, my thoughts drifted to the gift of art.   Even with the 70’s-80’s rock, I was aware that their music, their art, was pregnant with meaning, with memories, with story and probably several layers of it.  I was struck by the capacity of art to carry such significance – it’s ability to be able to hold and communicate multiple dimensions of wonder, story, meaning and wisdom.  The ability not only to mark a point in time but allow us a portal to experience it again but from a very different place.  To be able to experience the music and the memories as a 44 year old instead of a 16 year old.

Several years ago I went to see a friend perform.  She was a dancer and her performance was simply spectacular.  For the first time I experienced art that left me invigorated and deeply moved.  To be honest, I remember being unsettled by the experience at first – “what was this thing that could touch me so deeply?”    Art: music, painting, drawing, sculpting, poetry, photography, dance etc.  has the uncanny ability to engage us in a very deep place, beyond the intellect without abandoning it.  In its various forms we not only engage with the creativity, emotions and thoughts of the artist but a place where we can engage our own.

I have several poets I enjoy.  Never thought I would say that, but it’s true and the gift I have received from their poetry so often is to be able to take a word image, a thought, some wisdom, an idea, ideal or value and savor it – like a fine wine – to swish it, to chew it, to gargle it – experience the textures, the aromas, the tastes in various places in my mouth and then as it descends down, deep inside of me.  Art allows us to experience it, to engage it and not simply analyze it and consume it superficially.  For it is in the deliberate tasting – in experiencing art we can connect in a mindful way to something much deeper – to a place few learn to experience.

Art can also communicate mystery in ways that other means cannot.  It can express the wonder of creativity, an aspect of God’s nature which He no doubt imparts to us.  Art can communicate the depth of a heart; the passion of love, the intensity of pure desire.  It can communicate paradoxes and hold them together.  Art can be a tool which can help us cultivate a deeper relationship with God.  Art can help us communicate story and victory, sorrow and great pain and often times, in different forms transcend the very things which separate us as human beings.

The amazing thing is – we don’t even have to like a particular art form to benefit from it for even if it is bitter in our mouths, it affords us the opportunity to engage it on that level – to explore and understand what about it is so distasteful for us.  Another learning opportunity.  Art is important to us as it contributes beauty, insight, critique and innovation to a community.  Art can carry a great deal of meaning and can be a powerful tool for self discovery and healing.  My wife, a Recreation Therapist, uses art to help connect to her clients in various stages of dementia.  Music often has the ability to reach in behind the confusion and fear to bring comfort and pleasure, but also the ability to connect to a memory and then to a sense of their identity if even for a brief time. Painting, sculpting and other forms of creativity has been demonstrated clinically to help improve the quality of life and bring people back to more active communication as it stimulates different parts of the brain.  (A short video trailer on the therapeutic aspect of art for dementia patients.)

This summer I was able to re-live these songs and the memories with my family, and now these bands and their art are now infused with even more, fond memories – the August summer evenings that we were together as a family, laughing, singing and enjoying life together.  And I suspect, when old and grey slipping in and out of clarity of thought, as the Rec. Therapist cranks “Spaceship Super Star” by Prism and my fellow residents and I are rock’n out – my heart will be full of childhood memories and a smile will take shape on my wrinkled lips as I remember this past summer concerts.

– Michael

This was originally published on  Resources for Inspired living.  Success with significance.