Wednesday, January 30, 2013


 TIP #3
Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Who are all these people whose voices we hear inside—controlling, judging, berating? Who do they think they are?

Remember, those voices are not yours. While perhaps well-intentioned, they have their own baggage. Trust you own voice.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

WHY I WONDER – Believing Is Seeing

PHOTO: Gavin Tobin

(In my previous Why I Wonder post, I likened wonder to a path where the starting point is the essential, childlike curiosity with which each of us was born; the destination, an indeterminate point where we start to recognize the spiritual meaning of that curiosity and the portals to wisdom and grace it opens for us.)

Trying to talk about this mystical aspect of wonder is where some people's eyes start to glaze over. But it's not that complicated. In fact, it's actually the opposite. That's why kids are so good at wonder. Their minds and spirits are still relatively pure, their original circuitry for joy and wonder less likely to have been drained of juice—shorted out if you will—by culturally imposed expectation, prejudice and cynicism. It's why, with kids, it's often so easy to see the exact moment when simple amusement turns to magic.

For most of us adults, child-like wonder is something we have to come back to after years 
or decades of its deprivation.

What children may not fully appreciate about such joy and magic—and this is one of the few advantages adulthood holds over childhood when it comes to wonder—are the deeper redemptive qualities they possess. I suppose it’s like the notion of not being able to fully appreciate something—beauty, love, freedom…fill in the blank—until you’ve faced living without it.

For most of us adults, child-like wonder is something we have to come back to after years or decades of its deprivation at the hands of overwork, over-thinking, preoccupation, ambition, and the other joy robbers in our busy lives.

Every step along the path of wonder is nothing more or less than what we make it. For some it's very deliberate; for others it takes on a life of its own. The latter approach—again, one which children model quite well—is worth cultivating if we want to explore the limits of our capacity for awe.

You've heard me say this before: in general, we see what we expect to see. This is as true in our own disposition as it is in Nature. When I lift up a leaf to see what’s under it, I don’t do that because I expect to find nothing.

By the same token, when I’m getting to know someone, if I’m to come down from the intoxication of telling my own story long enough to ask them about theirs, it sure helps if I believe their story might surprise and delight me. And, even in getting to know myself, if I start rolling back a layer of doubt, regret or anger to see what’s there, I always feel better—and learn more, it seems—when I expect it’s going to be something good.

I know this place where curiosity and faith meet has something to do with the essential meaning of life.

So you see there’s a strong element of faith in the kind of wonder I've tried to cultivate for myself and teach those who want to learn it. I can think of no more cogent way of putting it than the quote I often cite from former National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones. In a short film he made to help business executives tap into their latent creativity, he twisted an old maxim, saying that sometimes "you have to believe it to see it."

This is why I wonder. I know—catching the purest sense of it only in fleeting epiphanies—that this place where curiosity and faith meet has something to do with the ultimate secret of happiness, the essential meaning of life.

In so many ways the world I experience—Nature, other people, life’s situations—is a reflection of who I am. This can be both humbling and empowering. It supports my conviction that seeing with wonder is actually more about what you give to the experience than what you get from it. It’s a notion I call "seeing generously."

What does that term, seeing generously, mean to you? Do you see life that way?

(Watch for the next post in the Why I Wonder series: Seeing Generously)

Friday, January 18, 2013

SPIRAL BOUND – Ahead of Cabbage

Red cabbage is my reminder, today, of our deep-seated need to tend the flame of color, even as winter’s consuming breath tries to extinguish it from the landscape.

Could there be any vegetable color so rich, so passionate, as this lucid purple, this nearly perfect fusion of red and blue?

And color’s just the blush of wonder, for it so often resides in layers, revealed only to one who cares to see deeply, generously. Cabbage does not disappoint.

Thick pinnate veins suggest distinct leaves wrap the hefty sphere. Only the satisfying “chunk!” of cleaving reveals the true wonder of the layering—a compound spiral maze* of folded fetal forms.


Peel it and the leaves seem distinct, but when you trace one’s cross section, it looks for all the world like one continuous, wrapping sheet. Can you follow one leaf from fat center node all the way to its edge?

Is such beauty too good to eat? Perhaps, but for bringing still more senses to play in this game of appreciating everyday miracles. There’s cool, crunchy, slightly peppery wonder in that too.

*There are many types of spirals to be found in Nature. Red cabbage’s pattern is a compound spiral following what’s called the Fibonacci ratio, whose sequence runs 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13... (each subsequent number being the sum of the two preceding ones). 
See more of Nature's spirals.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

WHY I WONDER – In Two Places At the Same Time


Wonder's like the two ends of a path—or maybe I should say like the point where you start out and another point somewhere along the way where you think you might end up. Let me explain:

Any time you go somewhere, meet someone, experience something or process an idea it's like setting out on a journey. Sometimes you know where you're going; sometimes you think you know but end up taking an alternate route; and sometimes—often this turns out to be the most fun—you just set out on the path and have no idea where it will lead.

This is the other end of wonder, the place where your conversation with your surroundings turns from asking to listening.

In any case, when you take off on this wonder journey, something in you is thinking, I wonder. At this point it's all about curiosity, intrigue, adventure. If you're in Nature, the conversation between you and your surroundings here involves mostly asking: What is that thing? How did it get here? How does it feel or smell? What's under it? Why did it just move? How does it experience me?

Maybe we could just call this end of the path wondering.

Okay? Now let's jump to the other end of the path. The first thing you need to understand about this place is that it doesn't exist, at least not in a linear-thinking, rational way. It's like heading for a point on the horizon; by the time you get there, you're headed for a new point on a new horizon.

So you have to decide for yourself when you've arrived. Most often the only way you know is when you experience something profound, a sense of being that seems to originate outside of yourself. This is the other end of wonder, the place where your conversation with your surroundings turns from asking to listening.

The wonder you've just experienced is no longer 
a place on the path, but a place in your soul.

It's at this point that what might seem, semantically at least, a subtle distinction becomes quite pronounced. You've moved from wondering to experiencing wonder.

This is where you realize the spiritual meaning of wonder. And it's where you make a critical, albeit tacit, decision: what will I do with these feelings? It's here that most people seem to feel their transaction with Nature is complete. They've come; they've seen; they've experienced something that made them feel small.

But don't let your path of wonder end there; pick up these experiences and take them with you. In other words, the wonder you've just experienced is no longer a place on the path, but a place in your soul. For in fact, that's where it's been all along.

(Watch for the next post in the Why I Wonder series: Believing Is Seeing)

Sunday, January 6, 2013


 TIP #17

How sad to toil for a lifetime, striving for days of leisure, 
only to forget, along the way, how to play.

Pretend, create, build, or just be silly today. Do it with someone or 
just with Nature. Water, sticks, pebbles, snow—she provides the toys.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

AND YOU? – The Two Most Important Words in Conversation

Years ago, my wife opened my eyes to a fascinating social phenomenon. We’ve come to refer to it as the “And you? factor.” It’s something that happens whenever people get together, whether they’re relating experiences, catching up on news or just engaging in small talk. It’s our measure of one person’s ability to show an interest in another, and to share, rather than monopolize, a conversation.

Like so many observations, once you witness the And you? factor for the first time, you become sensitized to it, and from that moment on you can’t miss it. In fact, as my wife and I sometimes do, you might wish you’d never noticed it in the first place. Let’s just say it will change the way you look at people and conversation.

Did so-and-so ask you anything about you? 

When we leave a meeting, a party or even some family events, one of us usually will ask the other, “Did so-and-so ask you anything about you?” At least 90 percent of the time the answer is no, so-and-so talked only about herself. “What’s more,” the account continues, “if I did manage to interject a word or two of my experiences or ideas, she simply snatched the conversation back to her own agenda.”

Here’s a typical example. On a recent trip to Mexico, I spent two weeks at a Spanish language school with a group of people from all over the U.S. Most of us didn’t spend time together during the day, but one night we all went out for dinner together. I sat next to a 40-something man (I’ll call him Bill) and enjoyed a warm, spirited conversation along with the fine dinner.

Turns out Bill’s a pretty interesting guy. But on the ride home from the restaurant I asked myself (since my wife wasn’t there) about that conversation, and whether Bill had scored any “And you?s” Sure enough, I could tell you all about Bill’s family, his work, his home, his hobbies and where he’d traveled. For God’s sake, I even knew what his wife’s work and hobbies were!

If he knew more than my first name, it would 
have to have been through some kind of ESP. 

So, after our couple of hours together, what did Bill know of me and my life? If it was more than my first name, it would have to have been through some kind of ESP.

Like Bill, many of these people are bright, well educated and from families in which one would presume they’d learned all the basic social graces. It utterly baffles me how this one courtesy—this simplest device of stopping one’s own monologue once in a while to ask “And you?...”, listen for a while and then perhaps ask a question or two—could have escaped about two-thirds of the people I’ve ever met.

What all of this leads me to is that people, like most things in Nature, hold many wonders to be discovered with a minimal investment of attention, curiosity and patience. Here, too, there are layers to be looked under, details to be appreciated, dim recesses to be illuminated. And, now and then, you might find some delightful surprises.

People—even those who go on and on about their accomplishments, social connections, travels and pet peeves—rarely reveal much of substance about themselves. At least not voluntarily. While I can’t pretend to be very good at drawing people out, my wife surely is. What I’m able to do with discovery in the natural world, she does with people.

If you aren’t curious about the person you’re talking with, you’re not giving them the chance 
to surprise or delight you. 

She observes keenly, looks for an opening and then, skillfully (almost always tactfully), tries to peel back the loose layers of a person’s modesty or embarrassment, and often finds a core of real interest or passion. Part of her success stems from her ability to see herself in the other person’s shoes: “If I were she, what would I enjoy talking about?” My wife, generous person that she is, knows how to let other people shine their light.

I’m taking lessons from the master, though I must admit I still enjoy talking about myself a bit too much. And, to be perfectly honest, sometimes I’m just not interested in the other person. But I’ve found that, when I do make the effort to draw someone out, it’s nearly always rewarding for both of us.

They get to share their essence with me and, more often than not, their passion will kindle mine. The point is—just as with discoveries about places and things—if you aren’t curious about the person you’re talking with, you’re not giving them the chance to surprise or delight you.

Now, I suppose one could say that my wife’s and my failure to get in a word edgewise in these “conversations” is just that, our failure. After all, when we opt to ask more than tell, aren’t we choosing not to share our story when we have the chance? The key word here is “chance.”

Wouldn’t anyone rather share something they care about because they were asked? Is having to interrupt the other person's lecture really the way you want to express yourself? Are my wife and I the only ones to have been raised with the understanding that boasting—not to mention monopolizing a conversation—is rude?

Might people actually think of their self-absorbed monologues as acts of generosity, as giving something of themselves?

Perhaps part of the problem lies in perceptions. Could it be that people actually think of their self-absorbed monologues as acts of generosity, as giving something of themselves? Maybe. But I beg to differ. I see it as taking, for in any conversation there are just three resources in play: time, attention and energy.

When you ask someone about their world, their life, you’re giving them your share of those assets. When you talk just about yourself, you take theirs. At the end of the day, it takes neither an expert on manners nor a psychologist to know that conversation works best when there’s give and take.

                                                  <->     <->     <->

Might the And you? factor be yet one more symptom of the plague of narcissism, competitiveness and loss of civility our culture has so clearly suffered over the past few decades? It’s worth pondering. If so, it worries and saddens me. I think we can do better. What do you think?

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you; what do you think 
about me? ~ From the 1988 film, Beaches -- adapted from the novel of the same name
 by Iris Rainer Dart