An Ode to Wonder
by Michael Colantoni
I have way too many books. And that is just what I have left after culling each time I have moved house. I have moved house often, but still I have several thousand books covering a huge range of interest – mostly psychology, business, philosophy, trading financial markets, finance, mysticism, writing, coaching and personal development – to name some. I am a book junkie. I swear off buying books on a regular basis. Then I start downloading them from Gutenberg and similar sites, before finally capitulating and going back to a favourite bookstore or logging in to Fishpond or Amazon.
I am a bookaholic.
But why? Why do I search the minds of other men and women who have put their thoughts, research and philosophies into these books. I am looking at my shelves now, as I look up from the keyboard, and peruse my long lines of old friends and advisors, my teachers, counsellors, mentors and exemplars. Honestly, I have only kept the three or four thousand most essential tomes. The rest I have given to book stalls and charity bazaars, waving them farewell and hoping they land in the lap of some desperately curious appreciator, as I was when I first found them.
What is that about?
It is about an intense need to understand, to learn, to evolve, to know. It is an insatiable compulsion to make sense of my world, of the strange beings that inhabit it, and of my own role in it. But is knowledge enough? Can we learn our way to a higher level of understanding? Can we accumulate true wisdom and competence through books and thinking? To some degree, I think the answer is “Yes”. But ultimately we cannot. Such study and learning can help us along the way. It can equip us with ideas and possibilities that get us on a path. Facts and concepts will not get us there, however. They are only a beginning and eventually must be relinquished as we start to formulate our own original perspective on existence, our personal, self-evolved paradigm, if you will.
Eventually, we must surrender all that we believe, all that we think we know, the sum total of what we have accumulated of knowledge. We must relegate all that to the functional level of existence – the level of survival and personal welfare. Surely, life is so much more than that. Life holds promise and magic that is beyond our ability to envision when we operate from the physical, practical paradigm. To progress further, we eventually have to develop the ability to simply wonder. How else will we see possibility, the suggestion of the undreamt? This potential is not linear, not sequential. It is a quantum function and cannot be deciphered rationally or proven logically.
Let’s see what that might mean and why it might help.
One does not climb to a higher level. We have to leap there. Wonder is the spring that promotes the leap. All human beings have the capacity for wonder. So why do we have that? Is it just some avenue for pleasure like nerve endings and taste buds, or have we been given this ability for a purpose. You may be a hard nosed “realist” or maybe a “practical” person, in which case you do not look very far beyond the immediate needs of your daily agenda. You then probably think that “vision” is a leadership activity that promotes progress in this world and is the quality of Presidents and Generals. You may doubt the existence of truth beyond the immediate, mundane perception of human awareness. You then doubt anything you cannot see or touch or taste. But I wonder.
Yann Martel, one of my favourite authors, says in his book “Self”, that adopting doubt as a way of perceiving is like adopting immobility as a means of transport. I have never seen it stated more simply or with more wit. What is the opposite of doubt? One could call that faith. But that word is loaded with overtones that immediately shut down the avenues of curiosity in most people. I call it wonder – the simple act in consciousness of not knowing, but of directly perceiving beauty and possibility.
We are humans, with human minds and with all the frailties of animals. We fear, we doubt, we hope and we strive. But towards what? Generally, we strive for something better, we hope we will achieve it, we are afraid we won’t and we doubt our ability to do it. But what if we did not try to know the outcome? What if we sidestepped the facts and figures that the world has presented to us and started again from scratch? What if we simply wondered what may be true, what was actually possible and how it might come about? In other words, what if we, just for a moment, were able to simply be here, in our existence, not knowing the rules, unaware of limitation, unconditioned by our education? What might happen?
When we view a sunset, none of us are afraid it will end or analyse its components. We observe it and we experience a direct sense of beauty and awe. This is the appropriate response. What else can you do with a sunset? You did not create it. You did not make it happen. You cannot extend it, take it home or change it. You can only experience it, directly, purely, without mitigation or amplification. It’s just there, in front of you, and all you can do is see it. Now, directly, without question or answer. You can wonder at its beauty, at its origin and cause, at the sheer incalculable immensity of its grandeur. But you cannot do anything about it. And you can’t possess it.
Is not life just like that sunset? We are all here. That’s it! You can’t keep it, take it home, mount it on your fireplace or change your “being here” in any way at all. You can only choose how you experience it. Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Life is neither good nor bad, but your thinking makes it so. We have taken our puny human minds and tried to make gods of them. What is really a faculty of perception, meant only to allow cognition of our environment and the functioning within that environment, such as tying shoelaces, has been promoted to the status of creator. We try to encompass our origins, our problems, in fact, the entire universe, within our puny human minds. When all we really need to do is to wonder. We need only allow ourselves to directly experience life as it unfolds – not criticise, not judge, not prefer, not own or reject. Just wonder at the sheer beauty of this simple thing we casually call life, and see where it takes us. One day, it will stop. This experience will end. We will be no more – at least not in this form. What happens then? Who knows. That’s none of our business. We are here now. That is all we need to know. We need facts so that we can cook a meal or tie our shoelaces or catch a bus. But when dealing with life itself, in its raw unfiltered state, true life as it is meant to be lived, we must sidestep our cranky little minds and see it through the heart wherein lies the capacity for wonder.
In the movie “Benjamin Button”, Benjamin, as he reverses through his youth, travels the world with innocent openness. He wonders, as many of us did in our youth, about this thing that he is living backwards. Many of us have wished we could do that, carrying with us the wisdom of our age. His conclusion, which he writes in letters to his unborn daughter, is that this thing, “life”, has no rules. He tells her that it is to be lived from the heart. One must choose a direction that is sensed from the heart. Then, as one experiences that direction in life, one must have the courage to change it immediately when the heart tells us that it is no longer the direction for us. He tells his daughter that his hope for her is that she will have the courage to live so freely. I extracted that speech from the movie and gave it to my children. I can think of no deeper or sounder advice for them.
Life is too big for us to comprehend. Yet we behave as if we can encompass all its possibilities in our imagination and human vision. We have no idea. It is so much bigger than the biggest vision that any great philosopher or scientist or thinker has ever proposed. The universe created us. How can we hope to encompass the universe? Can the clay vase encompass the potter? We must use the capacity to wonder that has been gifted to us as our avenue for joy and unlimited expansion. Our capacity to wonder will take us in directions that no man or woman can advise us to explore. It is the universe itself talking to us, saying “Hold my hand, and I will take you, dear child, to why I have brought you to this experience. I have visions and joys to share with you, but you must trust me. Do not reject my gift with your mind. Set it aside! It is for tying shoelaces and discussing tasks. Your mind is not for decisions or ambitions. I will give you those. Listen to me. Wonder at the breadth and beauty of my whisperings. Wonder.”
A child is born pure and uncontaminated. A child knows nothing of limitation and rules. It plays and explores, wondering at what this is and where it is. The world of human beings crowds around the child to instruct it in the ways of humans, imposing on this pure being all the fears and facts that contaminated them on their own arrival here. Soon, the child has forgotten how to wonder, and sets about conforming to the limited, joyless role of human. It did not have to be that way. But it is.
We can reclaim our heritage, our true heritage, by practising to wonder. Look at life without judgement and just see it, just feel it, just wonder at how far this thing can go, how big it can get. What are all the possibilities that you cannot see yet? Wonder at those and wait.
The promise is that you will be astonished.