When the last time you walked through a tree?
A few months ago I was hiking in these….
…California’s famed redwood forests. Surrounded by 1500 year-old trees, some of them almost 400 ft tall – it’s a humbling experience that pictures simply cannot do justice to. Some of these trees have endured drought and fires, and are even hollowed out so much at the bottom that you can walk through them. To be in the midst of these marvels is an experience of wonder.
People often come to psychologists and read blogs looking for some kind of answer. Often we come seeking answers but are not even sure what the question is. All we have is a vague sense of longing.
Sometimes there are answers to be given, and sometimes there are not. This blog is less concerned with providing clever answers, and more interested in inviting you back to questions and contemplation.
When it comes to the deep questions of existence, advice is cheap, and not altogether helpful. In my personal and professional experience I’ve come to learn that asking questions and being present with our wondering is an important and helpful way to engage life.
Wonder is a state of mind that opens us.
It opens us to new ways of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and reacting.
Many of us as we grow older and jaded by life, have little space in our lives for wonder. What came so naturally to us as children is replaced by boredom, cynicism, dogmatism, and even despair. And it shrinks our worlds into small, confining boxes that exclude us from extraordinariness of life. Maybe you’ve experienced this too – I find myself immersed in my own particular melodrama, only to be rescued from it by looking up into the night sky and being struck by the incomprehensible scope of the universe around us.
To wonder deeply, for more than just a moment, is to bring our full selves to the mysteries of life. Suffering. Death. Injustice. Loss. Joy. Bittersweet. Time. All of these are things we can study scientifically, and yet on the level of human experience they are so much more than the explanations we given them.
To wonder out loud, without asking Google or Siri for the answer, is to move back into pain and exhilaration of all the awe that surrounds us. For the world we live in is a difficult and mysterious place.
I think wonder is a step towards health. It helps us engage life with the posture of openness – the exact posture we need when life has become overwhelming or dysfunctional.
But wonder also takes us beyond ourselves into the enormity and complexity of the universe. To look up at the stars reminds of our place in the universe. As we remember that the light we see from stars travelled millions of years to get to our retinas, we are reminded of a much longer story we are our own personal stories take place in. To be amazed again as we were as children, to find our world full of wonder is the mental adjustment we need to regain perspective and reopen our minds and hearts to the world.
Now here’s the challenging part: wonder requires an act of faith. It asks us to consider the possibility that in opening ourselves to the world, there is something of value to get us through our current struggles. It may not seem anything like what we expect help to look like. But wonder invites us to risk the possibility that something more than we currently can imagine is out there waiting to be found, or perhaps to find us.
I hope in reading this blog that you will find yourself drawn back to wonder, as I wonder aloud at the mysteries of life. I want to wonder out loud in particular about human psychology and about our human struggle to find joy and peace in a difficult world. I invite you to follow my own journey as a psychologist and fellow human wrestling with deep questions about life, love, and our pursuit of happiness.