Throughout my life, travel has provided many opportunities to be moved by the majestic. Who wouldn’t feel wonder sitting on a ridge above the ruins of Machu Picchu, or passing through the darkened wood entry into the glistening white paradise of the Taj Mahal, or watching rose-colored light pour through the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral?
Such magnificent sites fill us with awe. So do special events such as a spectacular sunrise over the Pacific, the birth of a child, a newborn foal struggling to stand up, or a once-in-every 200 years solar eclipse.
Yet restrictions, such as those that came with the pandemic, can make travel to world-renown sites out of the question, at least for now. And once-in-a-lifetime moments happen, well, once in a lifetime. I no longer want to wait for the spectacular and rare to inspire me. Today, I will search for awe in the ordinary. When I pay attention, I can find it waiting for me in the backyard, neighborhood, or nearby park.
This morning, awe met me at dawn as a peek of sun beamed through dark, striated clouds. Raindrops hung magically off the tips of the Japanese maples. A glistening spiderweb hung like an intricate sculpture between bushes, the work of a world-class performance artist living in my backyard.
When I rush through life, I miss these small miracles. When I slow down, a world of wonder becomes available. All it takes is a small shift in perspective to make wonder a part of my everyday life.
I suspect you already know how to transform something into the miraculous that others might see as commonplace. Picture yourself attending your granddaughter’s first performance, starring as a mouse in the Nutcracker. Never mind that you are watching a school production and not an opera or ballet at the Bolshoi. As she enters and smiles on stage, you are enchanted, captivated, and delighted.
Through your devoted attention, you’ve discovered magic.
Everyday Wonder is Good for Us
Research suggests that feeling awe makes us healthier and happier. Psychologist Melanie Rudd discovered that taking time to feel awe can expand our sense of time and make the rest of our day flow.
Jonah Paquette, in his book Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected, references research that suggests how experiences of awe may increase our life satisfaction, reduce stress levels, make us less materialistic, and more altruistic. Even after an event, we can extend its power by reflecting and writing about the experience.
Develop Your Wonder Wand
Some simple steps can increase our capacity to experience wonder:
Pause: To see beyond the ordinary, we can slow down, pause, and notice. Photographer Michael Rubin has been capturing cracks in rocks, walls, and sidewalks for years as part of his everyday wanderings. He’s created a unique lens into art by paying attention to what is invisible to most others. Through his eyes, a small fissure in the sidewalk transforms into stunning art. Rubin’s mantra is, “Slow down and pay attention.” That’s a good recommendation for anyone wanting to discover wonder-worthy details.
Be curious: Try looking at the world without judgment. The slug crossing my gravel garden path looks, to my ordinary eyes, gross. It’s a slimy invader that will leave a gooey mess on my shoes if I step on it. That brown, slithering tube will chew its way through my fanciest hostas. I am tempted to squish it.
Putting on my curiosity glasses, I approach the scene differently. How amazing it is that this slug can move without apparent legs, let alone find its way to my juiciest hostas and avalanche lilies. I do a little research and discover that the slug’s prehistoric ancestors oozed across the earth 500 million years ago—500 million! What other living creature has a heritage like that?
I may not appreciate its dietary predilections, but I don’t have to find that wonderful to allow the slug to fill me with wonder.
Use your imagination: We can transform our world with imagination. I can open the backdoor in the morning and say, “Sounds like a lot of birds.” Going beyond that, I pause to imagine what the birds are saying. Are the finches announcing the arrival of a hawk? Are the song sparrows telling me a storm is coming? Are the robins planning to convene at our pond? Listening to their distinctive sounds, I discover a symphony playing outside my door.
Be grateful and be moved: I love the trees on my property. Because I care about them, I pay attention and notice details I might otherwise miss. Colorful leaves, catkins and berries, lichen, and twisted branches come alive. I stand with my back leaning against a large Madrona, thanking it and letting its deeps roots bring me comfort, offering a moment of grounding and quiet during a busy day.
Savor the senses: I often move from task to task quickly, clocking a short lunch so that I can return promptly to work. What a waste. When I slow down and allow myself to savor my senses, life changes. I take a piece of orange and admire its color. Then I shut my eyes and absorb its citrusy smell. I run my fingers along its nubbly skin and allow drips of juice to run down my fingers. Then I bite into it slowly and let my taste buds explode. Using my senses, I turn an everyday act into an out-of-this-world experience. If ever I seek a wonder-boost, all I need to do is savor a piece of dark chocolate, very, very slowly.
Capture and share it: We enhance our experience by thinking about, sharing, and saving it. We can describe it to a friend. We can draw what we saw. Drawing helps us concentrate and remember, regardless of skill level. We can write or sing about our experience. Taking a photograph helps us remember, as long we remain present to the experience itself. As we prolong our experiences, we increase our wonder.
Creating a Daily Practice
Assign yourself the task of finding wonder five, 10, or 15 times a day. Seek and you will find! At night, review your list of daily marvels, and wake up in the morning ready for more awe. Practice paying attention to wonder, and watch it expand in your life.
For instance, take a wonder walk. Even a 10-minute wonder break shifts my mood and helps me calm and renew. I assign myself the goal of discovering one delight-filled thing and then always find it.
Not feeling inspired? Visit your spice rack, and your senses will help you tour the world. Travel to India with curry, turmeric, or garam masala. Take time with cumin, coriander, or nutmeg, and imagine a market in the Middle East.
Even when my life feels hectic and chaotic, a small shift in perspective can transform the ordinary into the wonderous.
Last night, while soaking in my tub, I noticed a large daddy longlegs crawling across the wall in front of me. Normally, I don’t enjoy insects in the bathroom, but with my wonder lenses on, I was captivated. His eight slender legs bent and bobbed, more flexible than a dancer’s limbs. He hovered and paused, climbed and careened. I watched his moves, enjoying my ticket to this private ballet.
Through ordinary wonder, we gain front row and center seats to a much more fascinating life.
Sally Fox, the owner of Engaging Presence, is a coach and writer who helps individuals develop and craft compelling stories. She writes about following your creative calling after midlife. Find her blog at www.engagingpresence.com and listen to her podcasts at www.3rdActMagazine.com.