As someone who tries to practice mindfulness, I took as a challenge James’ description of wonder as something that we experience only in special places and times, and his statement “routine can be the death of wonder.” This certainly can be and is true for many of us, and it’s one of the main reasons I have been trying to practice mindfulness for over a decade at the Ethical Society. I believe we can experience wonder in the everyday, if we only take time to be present and notice what is going on inside and outside of us. But it’s easy to get swept up in all that we have to do, especially around the winter holidays, and with all the opportunities for entertainment and distraction that are now at our fingertips.
As part of my mindfulness practice, I have been trying to become more comfortable with doing “nothing”—meaning, just sitting (or standing or walking) and experiencing what’s around me with my 5 senses. There’s a meditation I read about once in which you simply name to yourself 3 things you can see, 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 3 things you can smell, and 3 things you can taste (difficult if you’re not eating!). It’s a simple way of being more present to your surroundings, and anyone can practice it anywhere, anytime.
I appreciated James’ suggestions for techniques to “trick” ourselves into looking at ordinary things in an extraordinary way. One of the reasons I love poetry and art is because writers and artists can help us see the world through fresh eyes.
Another source of wonder to me is greater knowledge. I know not everyone believes this—some people believe that knowing too much can lessen an enjoyable sense of magic. But that’s not my experience. For instance, when I learned [SPOILER ALERT] that Santa Claus wasn’t “real,” I lost the magical Santa Claus (though that story always seemed fishy for a lot of reasons, such as that we didn’t have a chimney in our apartment), but I gained a wondrous appreciation for all the parents and caretakers who give gifts to children and let someone else take the credit—and for the fact that people have such vivid imaginations and love to create and share stories. And that I could create and share stories too, and make “magic” for and with other people.
I know many scientists who have a deeper sense of wonder the more they learn about how reality really works. Indeed, the more we learn about the hidden worlds of the microcosmos, the macrocosmos, the incredible variety of life on our planet, the more we see that reality is weirder and more wonderful than anything humans have made up over the millennia.
So I wish everyone a wondrous holiday season–and a wondrous everyday.