The Magic of Wonder

December 13, 2019

As I am attending and giving a talk at Wonderfruit today – Asia’s leading festival and likened to Burning Man – I thought it was appropriate to write about ‘wonder’ which is one of the key tenets of the fetival – “Live. Love. Wonder.”

Neil De Grasse Dyson once wrote “it may be that our cosmic curiousity is a genetically-encoded force that we illuminate when we look up and wonder.”

Just 2 weeks ago on an important visit to Japan. I went to the heart and soul of the Land of the Rising Sun in the Nara region, a place I’ve been visiting for 20 years. In fact, I speak Japanese and spent 8 years living there.  A friend of mine , Echan, took me on a walk up this twisted path and into a bamboo forest. I could already feel that was a magical place as we approached, and on turning a corner I was confronted with a huge rock, or monolith,  which was not from Japanese civilisation. It was so incongruous, so out of place, I felt like I was in an episode of Lost! I marvelled at that rock for a long time, standing there in complete wonder. In fact, I could have spent all day looking at it, with a big grin on my face. My friend had an equally large grin – marvelling at the scene we beheld, and the reaction he saw in me. 

The word ‘wonder’ comes from the old English word ‘wundrian’, meaning ‘be astonished’, or ‘amazed. The Oxford dictionary defines it as ‘a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable’.

But more than intellectual definitions, we all know what wonder is when we are hit by it.  Like that moment in Japan recently, or standing on the edge of the Himalayas and being stuck in my tracks, or watching the birth of my daughter as a new consciousness entered this world.

There is so much magic in wonder.  And its such an antidote to some of the anxiety, negativity and anger we see in today’s society.

First of all, it stops us in our tracks and gets us present. You aren’t so concerned about the past or rushing to some future when you are in that state of wonder. Last week I was certainly in no rush to leave that cosmic site.

Wonder also evokes a feeling of joy. When JRR Tolkien was asked, he said “if you really want to know what Middle Earth is based on, its my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth.” Its tricky to behold something in wonder and simultaneously be angry or sad.

That also links to another good point. Wonder often but not always happens in Nature. And perhaps it serves as some away to reconnect us to our primordial and ancient roots, as part of nature -and as its guardians. In that sense, it’s really important at this time of human and planetary history.

Then wonder has a remarkable ability to open the mind to new possibilities as Gerry Spence wrote “I would rather have a mind opened by mind than one closed by belief.” 

This openness is important for so many dimensions of human existence. It certainly means less conflict. When you look around the world today, you’ll see a lot of people who are 100% convinced they are 100% right 100% of the time! And anyone in a different tribe either need shouting down to in order to persuade, or alternatively (and worse still) they are not fully human as we label them with phrases to demean their humanity. It would seem like a great time to be expanding the mind. 

And a mind opened is one which can learn. It should be no surprise that educators speak of the importance of wonder for a child’s development. When a child is marvelling at the world in joy and wonder, their brains are firing on all cylinders compared to a child in anxiety and fear, with their veins full of cortisol.

And, most of all , the magic of wonder is that it opens up to all of these gateways to our own amazing humanity: because we are meant to be curious, present, creative, connected to nature, open and joyous. In fact, back in my Motherland – the British Isles – the highest spiritual achievement of the indigenous people – like that of the Guru in India or the Rinpoche in India – was that of the poet. In fact, the poet, the druid and wizard are really all interchangeable.  It’s the poet who sees wonder everywhere. This is why wonder must really be a crucial step on one’s personal odyssey. 

As the poet Yeats has written,  “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

I hope you all find wonder in your day today.