An infant sits on the floor of a summer vacation home. Everything is new here; the space is foreign. The shag carpet is brown and glowing in the late afternoon light and she sits on wobbly hips gazing, staring, watching.
There is a dance taking place before her. The eyes that have been seeing for no longer than six, seven months at most, are mesmerized by the scene before her. A golden beam of sunlight floods the mid-air stage just above the baby’s head.
Her upturned face is captivated by tiny creatures illuminated and floating gracefully in this light beam. They are faeries, or they are sun people, or they are some unexplainable phenomenon worth remembering for years to come.
Whatever they are, they’re something this young one has never before laid eyes on and she is in a state of absolute wonder.
Years later, the infant is grown and the woman she has become remembers. The memory is clean, refined in her mind, and there are years of experience to separate the two versions of this person:
The one who is so new to the world that it is still rich in delightful unknowns, and the version who is years older, who has navigated through those delightful unknowns until they became ordinary.
The infant saw feathery beings the size of pinholes in that beam of golden light. The grown woman realized years ago that it was dust in the sun of a room not used very often.
When we are very young and new to the world, even the most ordinary aspects of life hold mystery because they are unknown to us.
As that woman who was once that infant, I know how it feels to be completely entranced— enamored— by dust particles, something we adults see as not only totally unexciting, but unpleasant, undesirable, and ugly.
As we grow older, our experience with the world diminishes our sense of delight in the small treasures of everyday life.
It takes a lot more gusto to inspire a real sense of wonder in adults, and this is the unfortunate circumstance of a world in which we believe we gain intelligence as our knowledge increases.
We think we are getting wiser with age, and in some ways this is true; however, the more we think we know, the more susceptible we are to becoming desensitized to the poetry of subtle mysteries.
In The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, the child prodigy and nature writer, Opal Whitely, writes the following in her diary at an age most likely between 6 and 8 years:
“We went along the dim trail. There by the dim trail grow the honeysuckles. I nod to them as I go that way. In the daytime, I hear them talk with sunbeams and the wind. They talk in shadows with the little people of the sun. And this I have learned: Grownups do not know the language of shadows.”
So how do we regain the ability to understand the language of shadows?
Some say wonder is not the simplest emotion to evoke. Apparently there is a rich variety of research that has been done in the exploration of emotions like fear, anger, joy, grief, and worry.
But when it comes to studying the powerful emotion of wonder, there’s not much we know about it, scientifically. This is what Robert Fuller, a professor of Religious Studies at Bradley University, tells us in his book, Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality.
It’s difficult to evoke wonder in a lab setting. Emotions like anger and guilt are “very easy to trigger,” Fuller states in a recent interview on The Art of Manliness podcast. He says that wonder “requires something that will catch someone very unexpectedly and surpass their ability to interpret or understand that moment.”
Does this mean we can’t create space in our lives to feel more wonder?
I think not.
Ordinary life offers infinite whispers of secret worlds that are so foreign to you that it is only natural to feel wonder when looking at them; the key is to seek them out and really look.
Petroglyphs, photograph by Brea Fisher
Go to nature and you will find these secret worlds.
Watch, as with each step you take in the grass, little black spiders race in arches away from your path.
Smell the faint perfume of a lilac bush on the breeze and take the time to follow it to its source.
Sit as audience to the wind as it plays conductor to the quartet of Pinon, Juniper, Cottonwood, and Ponderosa.
Make friends with an ant and study her travels as if searching out all the reasons one may have to fall in love with this tiny creature.
Take a walk through a garden and sample tastes of each herb you come across, taking the time to describe the flavors of each distinctly different plant.
Sit by the river and dip your feet into its flow; get lost in the way the water moves over a particular rock, or find a reed in constant dance under the rhythm of the current.
You can go deep into the natural world of your own body and tap into a sense of wonder just as potent as one watching a meteor shower on a clear new moon night in the desert.
Going to nature doesn’t necessarily limit you to a world outside yourself; after all, the human body is nature, too.
Below you’ll find a guided meditation I’ve recorded for you. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about fifteen minutes. Get out a yoga mat, or lie on a rug or thick blanket; this meditation is best practiced while lying down in savasana as opposed to sitting or standing.
If you’ve ever practiced Satyananda Yoga Nidra before, you may recognize the method I use in the first section of the meditation. In Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s book called, Yoga Nidra, he defines the practice as “a powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously.”
To be clear, the following meditation I offer here is not yoga nidra; however, I highly recommend the practice. I use Satyananda’s process of calling out each body part, and specifying between the right and left sides as a potent method of relaxation.
Satyananda states that “the progressive movement of awareness through the parts of the body not only induces physical relaxation, but it clears all the nerve pathways to the brain, both those governing the physical activity and those concerned with incoming information. At the same time we make a total run through the brain surface, from the inside out. In this way, yoga nidra relaxes the mind by relaxing the body.”
Some may say that the opportunities to feel wonder diminish over time. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be summoned.
If you’re seeking ways to inspire a sense of wonder, the surest way to find it is to pay attention.
Whether you go to the river, the mountains, the meadow, or the vast expanse of wilderness that is your physical body, wonder can be experienced when one is looking, listening, and using all the senses to receive it.
Begin intending to feel wonder and allow yourself to open to the possibility of it coming to you in unexpected ways.
My wish for you, is that you find wonder in your life as often as possible and that the delight it inspires within you is contagious to all the other grownups around you who may have forgotten the language of shadows.
Do you remember an early childhood experience of wonder? When was the last time you felt real wonder? Did you practice along with the guided meditation? If so, what came up for you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave me a note below!