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How Being in a Rush Kills Beauty


By Mary Jaksch

Imagine that it’s 7:45 in the morning and you’re rushing to get to work.  You’re preoccupied with thoughts about the coming day: the calls you need to make, the emails you need to write, the meetings you need to schedule for the overdue project.

When you are in a rush, how do you respond to beauty?

The Washington Post set up an experiment to answer just that.

They asked Joshua Bell, one of the world’s leading violinists to stand and play incognito  for 45 minutes in the L’Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington. Bell agreed. and one cold morning, at 7:45, he took up position with his 3.4 million dollar Stradivarius in the metro entrance hall. By the way, three days before Bell’s sell-out concert at the Boston Symphony Hall commanded ticket prices of over a hundred dollars. But here he was, in jeans and baseball cap, giving an impromptu concert.

So, what happened? Did crowds gather to listen to this world-class musician? Not exactly. Watch the video below to find out.

According to the Washington Post , 1,097 people walked by that morning. And, as you can see on the video, only a about six people actually stopped to listen.

The rest either ignored him, or didn’ t notice that something of great beauty was happening right in front of them.

This is a very interesting experiment, don’t you think?

It opens up many different avenues of enquiry. However, I wan’t to pick out just one: does being in a rush kill beauty?

Are you sometimes in a rush? Ok, I’ll re-phrase the question: are there days when you are not in a rush?

What happens in the body?

When we are in a rush, there is a feeling of tension all through the body. The stomach is tense. The shoulders are tight, and our breathing is shallow. Heart rate and blood pressure are raised.

What happens in the mind?

When we are in a rush,  our mind is split. One part is firmly focused on whatever is pressing in upon us, while the other part is giving minimal attention to whatever tasks need to be done quickly in the meantime.

Unfortunately, the tasks we’re giving minimal attention to as we’re rushing may be important, such as listening to our loved ones. When we are in a rush, we are simply not present.

Why rushing kills beauty

Let’s go back to the example of Joshua playing in the metro. There may have been many different reasons why people didn’t stop. Maybe they  couldn’t relate to classical music, or they were talking on their cell phone, or maybe they were used to ‘art’ being framed in a particular context. However, the complete lack of response points to the fact that most people were in a rush, and didn’t take any notice of the violinist.

According to the Washington Post, one of the people who walked past was called Calvin Myint. He was interviewed a few hours later but had no memory of a violinist. He asked:

“Where was he, in relation to me?”

“About four feet away.”


Calvin’s example shows that we can totally shut out the outside world when we are in a rush. It’s as if we are on auto pilot.

Being in a rush kills beauty because we don’t notice it.

beach-treasuresI’ve just spent a few days in a remote part of New Zealand, the Able Tasman National Park. This is a place of beautiful beaches and lush, green native bush flowing right down to meet the golden sands.

As you can imagine, it was a time without any rush at all. When I strolled along the beach without being in a hurry to get to anywhere else, the small objects of beauty leaped out at me. I saw shells with breathtaking patterns, and weathered leaves with a filigree of veins. I felt the cool water on my legs, and heard the sigh of waves pulling back into the sea.

How much do we miss when we are in a rush?

I think we miss a great deal. It’s as if things are continually calling out to us to notice them. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in the Duino Elegies:

Yes–the springtime needed you. Often a star
was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled towards you
or of the distant past, or as you walked
under an open window, a violin
yielded itself to your hearing

Life can be full of beauty and wonder if we respond the the call of things around us. My suggestion is to notice when you are in a rush, and to stop, just for a moment. Take one deep breath to break this negative spell, and  return to the present moment. As you stop, come to your senses and notice a moment of beauty.

What’s your experience of being in a rush? Do you have some suggestions of how to escape rushing?

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.


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