The Season on Cultivation
In order to make ourselves and our world better, we need to develop our skill at the art of living. During these ten weeks, we think about the concepts and competencies which help us live well – primarily in terms of virtue. We seek to build up our characters and cultivate habits which over time produce human flourishing.
In thinking about virtue, we follow the research of (among others) two modern psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. We take our structure from their classification of the virtues and many of our resources from the VIA Institute on Character which continues that work. Peterson and Seligman enumerate six main virtues – wisdom, courage, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence – with multiple sub-virtues belonging to each one (they call these character strengths).
You can test your own character strengths on the VIA website.
Week 5 – Transcendence
In Peterson and Seligman’s classification, transcendence is excellence in connecting with ultimate human ends. This is often couched in religious language, but cultivating this virtue is fundamentally not about a spiritual realm but rather about where we find meaning in our lives. Transcendence entails appreciating beauty and excellence, being grateful, having hope for the future, having a sense of humor, and having a sense that the life one leads is meaningful. We will explore each of these aspects as we return to this week year after year.
This year we focus our observance on the appreciation of beauty and excellence and cultivate an aesthetic outlook on life. We make a habit of noticing the aesthetic potential all around us and emotionally connecting with it. We see excellence itself, in all of its forms, as a thing of beauty. We also pay attention to the excesses of this appreciation. We chart a middle course between being oblivious to what is around us and being incapacitated by it, between not caring about quality and being snobbish about excellence.
[Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.]
● Learn more about some aesthetic thing you’re interested in. See how that knowledge increases your appreciation of the thing.
● Listen to the TED Radio Hour episode “What is Beauty” from NPR. It brings together a number of really interesting TED Talks on the nature of beauty.
● Throughout the week (and into the year), be mindful of what is around you. Go outside and smell the roses, metaphorically and literally. Appreciate the beauty of the natural world.
● Try to broaden your aesthetic experience. Go to museums you wouldn’t naturally go to. Notice when others are appreciating things you normally take for granted.
● Create beauty around you. Paint, decorate, arrange, cook, do something to make your environment aesthetically richer and more fulfilling.
● Try one of these fantastic activities from the VIA Institute, including movies to watch, songs to listen to and/or sing, and ideas for ways to cultivate your appreciation of beauty and excellence.
● Help someone appreciate something you like in the way that you do. Describe to them what you like about it and why you like those things. Share your knowledge of the thing and your perspective on it.
● Beautify not just your own life, but also the lives of others, especially those who might not have the resources to do it themselves. Donate something you’ve made or volunteer your time beautifying someone else’s space.
● Encourage others to cultivate their own appreciation of beauty and excellence. Use the same list of activities from the VIA Institute, but think about how you could facilitate those experiences for others.
Have other ideas for how to celebrate Transcendence Week? Comment below!