The art of observation: Awe and Wonder. At the dinner table last night, my son told us about popping a piece of candy into his mouth earlier that day and being surprised by the flavor. It was a candy he has had before, and mindlessly eaten. Yesterday, though, he noticed the distinct flavor and how pleasing it was, enjoying the taste of it. He said, “I was thinking that was a mindfulness thing, right, mom?” the awe and wonder I experienced in that moment really cannot be described. The writer, Marguerite Duras observes,“The art of seeing has to be learned.”
“(“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator,” [the cognitive scientist, Alexandra] Horowitz tells us. “It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.”) But while this might make us more efficient in our goal-oriented day-to-day, it also makes us inhabit a largely unlived — and unremembered — life, day in and day out.” Now, this is very different from the easily distracted inability to stay focused on a task or conversation. Oh, look! Squirrel! What were you saying?
My now 17-year old son, Lysander, is a beautiful example and reminds me to foster imagination. I often still find him wandering the house, sometimes circling the living room on his tippy toes just thinking, imagining, considering; or outside jumping around on the trampoline or lying down gazing at the sky, listening to an audio book or music – and wondering. Is it any wonder, then, that he can imagine four-dimensional space and shape computer code to conceptualize that imagination into a game, to a play-space? Only do not ask him to recite the times table! But the most brilliant minds have always been thus. Just as sports science finds that runners perform better when they intentionally take rest days, so our minds perform better, are more creative, interesting, resilient, when they are intentionally directed away from to-do’s, list-checking, achieving – to wonder.
Howrowitz admits, “We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.” And can recall William James’ observation that “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”
I advocate for Noticing Adventures. On these adventures we anticipate that, from the ordinary – that which we overlook while on autopilot – we might see, notice, the extraordinary. Or not-so-ordinary. Adrian van Kaam called this, awe abiding attention—that is, an alert, lived moment – in each moment, each step – alive to circumstance: open to see each person passing on the street, the parent and child holding hands – what is the child noticing? The sound of traffic or buzz of voices or lack of voices?
We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders. What I notice shapes my mind. And I choose what I will or will not notice. And in doing so, this affirms my prejudices, and confirms my expectations. Awe and wonder erase expectations. The ability to be surprised is exactly that: an ability – one that must be fostered, nurtured, practiced. And then it is conceivable to see what is possible in myself, and in another person, and in the day. And, isn’t that exactly what hope is? And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom5:5)
To notice is to hope; to give attention is to love. Let us cultivate the art of observation today by gathering the scattered, anxious thoughts toward the center where Jesus resides, where hope is nurtured and love is fueled.
Listen to the sound of the Tibetan singing bowl. I will strike the bowl three times.
With each strike, slow your breathing, deepen each breath. Settle, as your mind and thoughts are brought inward to the heart, while paradoxically becoming more open, receptive, aware – creative. Listen for that space where the sound ends and the silence begins.
Do you hear the voice of God? Listen.
As I chime again, gather your thoughts again (because, if you are like me, they might have drifted back to concerns of the day), and listen with your eyes. Notice where you are, notice something new. An unexpected object or behavior. A color you didn’t notice there before, or a person you often overlook but recognize here.
Wonder at the possibilities. Be in awe of the beauty, or the strange or the unexpected.
Wonder. Be in awe. Remain. Wander.
Be grateful. Give thanks.
You can find links, resources and the transcript of this podcast at my website, Eirenicole.com.
And today, may you walk at the pace of grace.