Cultivating Wonder

Apparently Einstein didn’t say, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is,” but I’m grateful someone did, someone who understood the power of wonder.

There are so many reasons to allow existence to elicit wonder from us.

I recently came across an excerpt from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in which she details the extraordinary complexity of a goldfish that she bought for twenty-five cents, his “completely transparent and all but invisible” ventral fins and his eyes that “can look before and behind himself.” Even a single-celled organism contains an entire, intricate world. As the psalmist says, “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Marveling at the beauty in front of our eyes or beneath our fingertips is one of surest paths to joy. The Buddhist metta meditation recognizes our fundamental desire to be happy. Letting ourselves be amazed at a crab burrowing into the sand or the capabilities of the latest technology fulfills one of our deepest needs by increasing our capacity for joy.

Or consider the overwhelmingly small odds that each of us exists at all. The sperm that made you basically had to win the Powerball lottery to reach that particular egg, and that’s true for every generation on your mom and dad’s sides. Then there’s the almost impossible matter of life evolving, not to mention atoms forming. (See this nifty infographic if you want to know exactly how many zeroes we’re talking about.)

Wonder is a way of life, a means by which to relate to the rest of creation. To be is to be in relationship, Cyprian Consiglio and others have said. What kind of relationship do we want to be in?

To recognize all of existence for the miracle it is puts us in touch with the divinity of everything and everyone around us. To be awestruck by that with which we are relating affirms and expands the life of the other. It’s a way of saying, “May you be.” What could be more essential than to give life to our fellow miracles?

2 thoughts on “Cultivating Wonder

  1. Your conclusion reminds me of Merton’s famous mystical experience on 4th and Walnut. If we recognized one another for what we truly are he said, we would fall down before one another in awe and veneration.
    For me, a fundamental “koan”, that helps to access a sense of disorienting awe, is to ask, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?”, or as someone else phrased it, “Why is there someone, rather than no one?” Quite mind blowing if you are able to enter into this question. Because neither possibility seems plausible, or even possible, certainly not comprehensible.
    I sometimes try to recollect that every human being has this brain consisting of 100 billion neurons and trillions of connections – the most complex object in the universe as we know it. As I’m prone to dismissing others for their backward social, religious, and political opinions, this can serve as a kind of antidote to my dismissing. And then I return to dismissing.

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