Aesthetic Arrest

By Marcia Miller

My husband and I just had a morning full of aesthetic arrest and I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for my day.
First we started off reading Hafiz poems to each other. Hafiz, a Persian mystic poet from the 14th century, is “my man.” His words always bring joy, relief, surprise, laughter and often tender tears—all in a few lines.
When all that feeling happens at once there is a moment when everything stops—that pause of blessing and amazement. My breath stops naturally and I am momentarily suspended in awe and wonder. That suspension is called aesthetic arrest—a term I have come to love.
I first heard it sitting at my dining room table last year with Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine when they were here to teach a workshop. We were talking about what we loved and I was sharing about my experience with awe. I have always loved that feeling of the world stopping—from the line in a poem that speaks directly to my heart, the hues of a perfect sunset, the astonishing fragrance of a rose warmed by the sun, or any moment of unexpected and intense beauty. But for many years those times seemed, well, inefficient. I’m a bit embarrassed to write that now, but it’s true. I was not only on a timeline to check off the items on my “mommy” and “business owner” to-do list, but was on a direct path to enlightenment as well. I had my pranayama, asana and meditation to do—that was Bliss enough for me.
Thankfully I was finally disabused of that idea once and for all when I did a strengths-finder test in a workshop with Katherine Dufrane. As I scored the test I was amazed to discover that the people who created this test saw the ability to experience awe as strength and not a distraction. It was one of those moments where my life changed completely as I saw things from a new perspective, and I could fully embrace all that I loved. From that moment on I have encouraged myself to revel in aesthetic arrest and have found it to be a necessary part of my enlightenment journey. Where before, I might have “snuck” a few minutes with Mary Oliver or Rumi, now I can enjoy a huge feast of my favorite ecstatic poets. Where before, I enjoyed my time in nature as a guilty pleasure, now it is necessary nourishment that I take with total abandon.
So as I was talking about all this, Lorin said, “That moment when your breath is suspended—there’s a phrase for that, you’ll love it: aesthetic arrest.” And he whipped out his iPad and showed me where it was described on one of his websites.
So this morning as I was settling into my precious time on the mat my husband called to me and said, “Come outside, it’s so beautiful and I know you’ll love it.” Pause—this was not one of awe but a consideration of my choices. In a moment I knew I wanted to see what he was talking about, whatever it was.
I went outside to find a frosted wonderland glistening in the early morning sun. Each frozen blade of grass caught the sun as if there thousands of crystals flashing their rainbow prisms. Each tiny branch of the peach tree I examined had shards of frost standing up like iron filings attracted to a magnet. My little bald-headed Buddha statue in the garden seemed to be sporting a new flush of tiny white hairs. I longed to run my hand over it the way I used to rub my son’s scalp after a short haircut. The grasses in our little prairie were decorated so lushly and yet so delicately that it took my breath away to see it—ahhhh. The yogis have long said that the space between the inhalation and the exhalation is a precious portal into the present moment. So here I am practicing the yoga of awe.
I Left Firewood and Smooching

There is a disease I know, it is called: being too serious.

Don’t worry, you won’t catch it from my poems.

I let eloquence have its say, and wisdom too and
mirth, for they can be needed companions as you
navigate this dimension and others.

Wherever you have dreamed of going, I have camped
there, and left firewood for when you arrive.

Try this someday: When you are packing or moving
any simple object around—imagine your Beloved’s

hand—as yours. And it then might become thus, if just
for a second.

But a wondrous, true moment like that would be
enough for the integration to begin,

The meld of you and light…and then the smooching,
the wild smooching all the time. Why not?

From, A Year with Hafiz, Daily Contemplations, by Daniel Ladinsky

3 Responses to Aesthetic Arrest
  1. Gail Sky

    Thank you Marcia, blog…the precious portal to the present moment filled with awe.

  2. Katherine Dufrane

    Hi Marcia, Your words, springing as they did from such a deep and joyful experience, created an aesthetic arrest for my imagination!
    The Photos are a special treat…..actually breath-taking, especially with the Sun shining on the delicate frost.
    I was surprised to notice that I had a sensory feeling of what you were describing – how your vision stimulated your memory of stroking your young son’s short haircut!
    A huge hug and thank you for your sharing, Katherine

  3. Jennifer Gebhart

    I too enjoy aesthetic arrest, didn’t know there was a name for it. Last Thursday coming home old 315 I stopped at the light at Powell Road and noticed out my passenger window some flowing water. I turned off my CD and opened the window and listened and watched. It was a beautiful moment in my day! Thank you for sharing!