Which is cheaper to use at the table: napkins or paper towels? Does shampoo that says it is designed to help maintain hair color really work? How does my car stereo sometimes pick up radio broadcasts from Ohio? What happens to swallowed gum? As you can see, I wonder a lot. I think it’s a very good thing to wonder; it’s fun, it helps me entertain myself and keeps my curiosity sufficiently piqued. It is, in fact, one of the sixteen Habits of Mind of successful learners (see my post of July 9 for more on this https://ordinarywomanextraordinarylife.wordpress.com/?s=habits+of+mind). According to the brain think-tanks, people should spend more time wondering. When you walk around and let the world in, and I mean really in, you open synapses in your brain and allow new connections to form. New connections become the scaffolding for even more learning and understandings. So seeking out wonder around you and stopping to embrace it is like adding floors, walls, stairwells, pathways and elevators to the ever-growing construction in your head.
I tell my little ones in my kindergarten class that they carry a toolbox with them at all times that helps them learn about the world around them. I am referring to their senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. As adults, I believe we allow the mundane everyday routine to beat out of us the attention that needs to be paid to the little things. Much of the recent research on senior citizens shows that getting stuck in a routine causes more rapid deterioration of processes like memory and learning; and many of us are in those ruts by the time we are thirty or so. It’s not easy to stay out of these mind-numbing routines when there is a full-time job and/or a family to manage. But it is important to remember to stop and, as they say, smell the roses. Instead of rushing from work to the train or car, slow down just a little. Look around you at the storefronts, the gardens, the cars on the street, the people, whatever you pass. You are likely to think: When did that new deli open? Look at the colors of that sunset! Nice car (shoes/dog/eyes)! Since I have made more of an effort to notice my surroundings, I have felt more content with my days, I kid you not. I have learned to find little pleasures in little things: the flowers growing in the gardens, the leaves on the trees, the clouds, the dogs walking past. And these things make me feel happier. Who knew that the secret to happiness was all around me, waiting to be noticed?
Some good friends have noticed a difference in me over the last few years. Not that I was ever a miserable person to be around (except during some of the teen years, I’m sure) but they have made recent comments about my patience level, about my more serene disposition, about how easy it is to make plans with me because I seem happy doing just about anything. It’s true- I actually find it difficult to choose between two activities most of the time because they both sound fun, and unless I feel very strongly, I’m just as happy to have someone else make the decision. It’s all good. I really think I owe this to embracing that openness for wonderment and awe every chance I get.
What is capable of amazing each of us is different. People with an artistic eye can and should spend a lot of time looking at paintings, sculpture, drawings, and the like. I kind of get it; after all I consider myself an amateur photographer and I think that may help the way I see the world. And I do love museums; but my idea of a trip to the museum better involve friends and food or I won’t last long. People who love music can and should have the tunes going all time when possible, and attend concerts too. I’ve seen many folks lost in the music, letting their bodies sway or their hands conduct an invisible orchestra. I do love music, and it is usually playing wherever I am. I enjoy live music and really good guitar riffs or some sweet saxophone. Still, not the thing to really catch and hold my attention. If I had to pick one “thing” I think it would be nature. I can walk in the woods for hours, stare at the crevices on a cliff or sit by a stream for endless periods of time alone. I watch woodpeckers at work, marvel at the stars on a dark moonless night, closely examine a particularly gorgeous flower, climb mountains, listen to the wind blow, and am blown away by rainbows. The other day, my husband was driving us home from an evening in the city, and suddenly I went, “WHOA!” He almost caused an accident as he was looking for an oncoming car or pedestrian diving into the road. When he couldn’t identify any cause for panic he asked me, “What??” “Look at that moon, it’s huge! And isn’t that Mars right next to it?? Look how red it is!” Poor man.
Wonder and awe does not come to you; you have to seek it out. You have to open your eyes and mind, and breathe a bit slower, and listen, and look and sniff. You have to chew each bite of your food twenty times until you can identify the individual flavors (eating slowly has proven to be nearly impossible for me- not sure why I gobble my food, but when I do chew and really taste, mmmmm. Very rewarding!) You have to watch for something interesting and catch it when it happens. It’s always there, just waiting for you to discover.