A great deal of how we experience the world comes down to choice. The art of seeking wonder begins with the recognition that we do indeed have a lot of choice about how we experience life and interact with it. There are days when life experience, pain, gloom and stress make the quest for wonder seem hopeless, futile, childish. Part of the art involves steadfastly reminding yourself to bother, remembering that it can be done, and that the doing will nourish you.
Sensing truly and being open to the world is an art in its own right, and I’ve talked about it in a previous blog. If we aren’t letting anything impinge on our awareness, then it is a certainty that wonder will not come in to us from the outside. It is possible to generate feelings of wonder and the numinous from within. Through meditation, prayer, contemplation and imaginative exercises, it is entirely possible to feel a sense of wonder without any reference to anything else. There are times when going within in this way makes a lot of sense. However, there is an escapist quality to it, and it is better, frequently, to deal with external problems. To be a druid is not just to be wandering the inner plains, but to be engaging with the world our bodies move through. One of the dangers of seeking wonder within, is that our inspiration can easily become threadbare over time, and the method ceases to give us anything. Another danger is that we become divorced from consensus reality.
Natural beauty can be an easily available source of wonder, and there’s a great deal of it out there. Even in the most squalid of urban environments, plants strive to grow and creatures still manage to exist. Few environments are entirely sterile. Sometimes those determined, struggling urban plants can be the most heartbreaking and poignant things imaginable. The urban tree is as much a place of peace and refuge as one in a forest.
Watching for the good in others, and giving people the chance to step up and do something remarkable can be part of the quest for wonder. It’s easy to become cynical and remote, but for all the crap out there, humans are capable of amazing, generous, inspired, beautiful, wonder-laden actions. The more carefully protective of ourselves we become, the harder it is to access this. It’s only by speaking of pain that we can invite others to treat us with compassion. It’s only by trusting people that we can give them the chance to prove how worthy they were of that trust.
The art of seeking wonder will sometimes lead us to disappointment. In opening eyes a little wider we may also see things we don’t want to find. In taking risks in interactions and in what we expose ourselves to, we may not always find what we seek, but sometimes we will. Being open to wonder specifically calls for being open to risks as well. Wonders can be overwhelming, shocking, fearful, awe inspiring in the awful sense. That which is wonderful can break down our sense of how reality works, challenge our assumptions, even our sense of identity. There are stories about places that will turn you into a poet, or a madman, and I think this is part of the nature of encountering wonder. Small wonders may be gentle with us, but the big ones might well not be.