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The Healing Power of Beauty and Music

Personal Perspective: We need beauty in our lives, but we often don't see it.

Key points

  • There's beauty all around us, but we are often too consumed to notice it.
  • Maybe we take beauty for granted until we are sick or hurting or suffering (or dying).
  • Medicine heals the body; beauty, art, and music heal the soul.

"Beauty in distress is much the most affecting beauty." Edmund Burke

We all need beauty in our lives. Living, working, and “being” in beauty makes everything just a little bit better. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a library, looking out the window at a beautiful azalea bush, such vibrant pink jutting out against the rich, green leaves. The pink is even more pronounced within the backdrop of the cloudy, gloomy day. Almost as if saying, “I’m here, no matter what.”

Beauty transcends the gloom. It almost feels as though it’s reaching for me. Calling me. As I stare at it, I can sense a higher power. It settles me yet energizes me. It helps me find my “creativity.” And it’s right there, on a suburban street, right under my nose. How many people walk or drive by without looking, noticing, getting some energy or inspiration from it? We all could use a little more beauty in our lives.

Personal photo
Personal photo

Now, imagine being in a hospital. Being ill… seriously ill. Feeling the dark and gloom that settles in your mind when you have nothing to do but lie in a hospital bed, perseverating on your fate.

Medicine works to heal the body. But what works to heal the soul? I think we all realize the connection between the body and the soul. And yes, the body needs medicine. But what heals the soul? Beauty.

Music soothes the soul. Beauty soothes the soul.

“That was beautiful.”

On a recent day, working as a music therapist in a hospital’s intensive care unit, this is what two patients said to me after experiencing music.

The first patient was dealing with intense respiratory issues, needing help in simply breathing. Machines… hoses… oxygen… When I walked into her room, she was lying in the bed, seemingly focusing so much on her labored breathing I could feel her anxiety emanating from her.

I suggested that, for a few moments, she try to focus on the music. She liked ’50s music, so I provided some songs in a relaxed, soothing style. I also purposefully matched the tempo to her respiratory rate, which I gradually slowed as we progressed, aiding in slowing and deepening her breathing. Her face gently softened. Her eyes brightened. Her breathing steadily slowed and deepened.

When I finished, she looked at me, almost childlike, and said, “That was beautiful.”

The next patient had had a recent stroke. I could sense her stress when I walked into her room. Just a few days ago, she was living her life, but now here she was in an ICU bed, having trouble speaking as a result of the left-sided brain injury. (The side of the brain where our speech comes from.)

But when she saw me with my guitar, she smiled, looking almost as if she were in a dream (“Why is someone with a guitar coming into my ICU room?”). Again, I said, “Focus on the music.” She was able to tell me that she played a little guitar and grew up listening to John Denver.

As I was about to sing the second chorus of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” I paused and said, “You must know the words. How about singing along with me?”

As she sang, her face changed in such a way that she looked like a completely different person. Life (beauty?) had come back into her eyes. And even though she was having issues speaking, she could sing. Speech comes from a specific part of our brains in the left hemisphere; that is why those who have a stroke or a left-sided brain injury have difficulty with speech. But singing activates multiple parts of our brains in both hemispheres. And that may be why she was able to sing.

Then, when I played and sang “Annie’s Song” (her favorite), a few tears sparkled on her soft face, creating an angelic glow as she took the song in fully—listening with her entire being. When I finished, she looked at me, almost childlike, and said, “That was beautiful.”

Do We Take Beauty for Granted?

Maybe we take beauty for granted. It’s all around us, yet do we always see it? Maybe we take beauty for granted until we are sick or hurting or suffering (or dying), when we crave it to help us when all else seems to be gone. Maybe life would be better if we could simply see and experience the beauty around us more.

So, give yourself a chance to stop and notice the everyday wonders that you’ve been too distracted to see yet are right in front of you. We spend a good part of our day looking down—at the ground, at our phones, at nothing… lost in the thoughts of work and dread of yesterday and tomorrow. But if you just look up from the fabricated world, you’ll see beauty, nature’s art, an eternal sketch of vibrant hues.

The sacred and the miraculous are everywhere. A flower, or even a weed in the rich earth on the side of a path. The symmetrical limbs of an old tree. A bird song. A squirrel with an acorn. A clear blue sky that you can look right through to something divine. The distant sound of someone practicing the cello. A vibrant pink bush in the middle of a suburban street. You will see Shakespeare, Monet, Chopin—if you just look up. If you just look up, you will see beauty all around. And maybe things will be a little bit better.

The healing power of beauty…

The healing power of music…

(*The stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts or experiences.)

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