|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)