Regain A Missing Sense

“Awe is the beginning of wisdom.” Matthew Fox

We’re missing a sense integral to a fully-lived life. Not a sense like hearing, seeing, tasting, or feeling—although these senses should come into play too. I’m talking about a capacity that has dulled significantly since you were a very young child.

Back then everything was wondrous. You crouched down to watch a bug on the ground, curious to see how it moved through tall grass, thrilled when it lifted off on shiny transparent wings. The sun on your face, the smell of the dirt, and experience of running with your arms out in imitation of that flying creature are all still held in your bodily memory. As a small child, you lived within moments of wonder.  The sense we’re missing is awe— a heightened state of being, a sort of enhanced aliveness.

Sure, it’s necessary to become somewhat dulled to the world we live in just to get on with what we think is the real business of being an adult, but it’s easy to take it too far. Muting the capacity to be struck by wonder subtracts from who we are, even from how completely we remember our days. That’s probably why we seek out new experiences. We know we’ll catapult into wonderment when we travel to Bali or try white water rafting for the first time. Without some element of surprise it’s hard to feel fully alive. Days blend into the sameness of weeks, months, years. We hunger for surprise to waken our curiosity and if we’re lucky, to waken awe as well.

The antidote isn’t necessarily Bali or rafting (although if you’ve got the time and money get going). The antidote is freshly seeing and being present to your own life, letting it continue to surprise and awaken you.

Here’s one way to practice this.

Every single day, choose to find at least one moment that snags a loop of wonder and pulls at it. This may not be easy. But you already pay attention when there’s even a slight alteration to your routine. You may travel on the same road day after day. But when you’re stopped by construction or traffic, you tend to see details that had previously escaped your awareness. You might even convince yourself that those details are new, otherwise how can you explain never before noticing a stain on the side of a convenience store that’s shaped like a wizard or a the dinosaur-themed curtains in the window of a house or heck, not even realizing the store or house were there at all as you regularly swept by in the flow of traffic?

So you might allow your thoughts to slow and really hear the teakettle come to a boil, or really notice the intricate loops in a child’s scribbles, or really smell the green aliveness as you walk through the park.

To maintain this practice of wonderment, tell someone (even if it’s your journal) what provoked your awe, using as much detail as possible. You’ll notice that you have to pay a great deal more attention. Perfect. This puts you right in the moment, away from ruminating about the past or speculating about the future. It forces you to use your senses. Sometimes the only thing you can find that surprises you is a sound you can’t identify (investigate, or make up a fantastical reason for the sound, or try to make it yourself) or a person’s facial expression so extreme that it’s caricature-like (you might imagine a backstory or make the next song you hear explain it). If you don’t want to tell someone or write it down, sketch it. (Here are some drawing hacks for non-artists like me.)

Staying on the lookout for surprises is one way to consciously alter your outlook. You’re more wide awake to wonder, just like the child you once were.

 

Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early

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9 thoughts on “Regain A Missing Sense

  1. I’m thankful for this post this morning. As I’m settling into new sets of routines, I feel the risk that my sense of wonder may be lost even though everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight. I appreciate your practical advice for how to keep that sense alive.

    Like

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