As you might gather from the name of this blog, wonder is of great importance to me (wandering, on the other hand, is simply a by-product of a quest.) This feeling of amazement and admiration, often caused by the unfamiliar, the remarkable and the simply beautiful has been a driving force in my life. Wonderful experiences make us wonder. We engage in a shrinking yet ever growing world, driven by curiosity and the need for a fix, a dose to satisfy our needs for a feeling. What makes wonder wonder? We can try to define it, seek it, but most likely it will take us by surprise and lift us up in a fountain of questions and possibilities fuelling our imagination and briefly turning our lives into a dream.
At its extreme wonder is the feeling of awakening triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible or by confrontation with the vastness of space and time. Yet, some people are capable of experiencing genuine wonder while staring at a sunset for the thousandth time. According to Neel Burton M.D “Wonder is a complex emotion involving elements of surprise, curiosity, contemplation, and joy, and is perhaps best defined as a heightened state of consciousness and feeling brought about by something very beautiful, rare, or unexpected—that is, brought about by a marvel.” A sunset in itself might not be new, but at that moment in your life it might have taken you by surprise and interrupted your thought process reminding you of everything a sunset can encapsulate while making you conscious of things far greater than your daily struggle.
Awe and wonder are closely related but do not offer the exact same set of emotions. Awe seems to be directed towards something powerful. Your instinct suggest you to submit, to admit to yourself that you cannot understand or master the situation and to surrender to feelings of confusion, surprise, and wonder. We could spend time arguing the purpose of awe from an evolutionary point of view and discuss how it has shaped politics, culture and religion ever since the dawn of mankind. I am not interested in awe, although I understand why I might need it. I seek wonder in its purest form. Let’s face it it is sometimes hard to accept that you are responsible for cultivating your own wonder.
We get brought up on wonder, it is only normal for some us to become highly addicted to it and/or to become lazy in its regard. As a child everything has potential for wonder, your world gets shaken constantly and you have to adapt through a process of realisation. Daily, we accomodate new realities in our understanding of the world; of nature, of people, of things, of what is possible and what is not. I hope to never forget the feelings I had that first time I sat in a theatre. I witnessed that red breathing light hidden in the bushes slowly transform into a scary creature hidden in the shadows, and finally reveal into a friend, someone as lost as all of us. My first experiences with cinematic wonder were under the spell of Spielberg, Lucas and Zemeckis. Those were to be the first names of a long series of puppeteers that were to toy with my feelings and constantly reshape my understanding of the world and my place in it.
The problem with wonder is that it fades away. Whether we want to accept it or not, wonder is doomed to become scarcer as you progress in life. Your world becomes smaller and the potential for wonder simply diminishes. Yes, Spielberg, Lucas and Zemeckis had an advantage. They were delivering their best to an almost empty canvas. Wonder not only fades away, it can also get kicked out of you. I find the word stupid interesting in this context. From Latin stupidus “amazed” literally “struck senseless,” from stupere “be stunned, amazed”. Eventually, one has to stop behaving like a kid at the risk of being labeled as stupid. (Do not get me wrong, I will use that word to describe you in some situations) In too many occasions people are not encouraged to feel stupid, embrace the feeling and let the normal process take its course. In a way, wonder becomes discouraged and if it occurs it has to be repressed from the public. Insane.
Isaac Asimov: And because today’s real life so resembles day-before-yesterday’s fantasy, the old-time fans are restless. Deep within, whether they admit it or not, is a feeling of disappointment and even outrage that the outer world has invaded their private domain. They feel the loss of a “sense of wonder” because what was once truly confined to “wonder” has now become prosaic and mundane.
Many years ago, I was still a kid but I was going through a major readjustment phase brought on by the consequences of my own behaviour, anyway. I was starting to experience the nasty effect of the fading of intense wonder we probably all experience towards the end of childhood just before our adolescence. We were in a restaurant with my family and my birthday cake must have alerted the person at the table next to us of our celebration. It was stage magician and skeptic James Randi. What followed was a private show involving watches and cards but most importantly Randi did what Randi did best, he revealed a few of his and other people’s tricks. In a way Randi killed wonder on the spot and then immediately created potential for more wonder instead. Eventually you stop falling for tricks but figuring the trick out by yourself offers a lot of potential for wonder and to transmit or generate wonder in other people is a wonderful process in itself.
No, I did not become an illusionist. But, I believe I am applying the same idea to the wonderful movies of my childhood and my youth. Instead of attempting to recall the wonder I had originally felt watching the same movie over and over again (yes, I sometimes do it, but that is not the point), I have accepted to destroy some of the wonder to open a door for new potential. It is a risk, in a way. You become aware of the trick. But, it is an active process. We all have potential for wonder left in our lives. It all depends what we want to do with it. By drawing us out of ourselves, wonder does make us feel small and insignificant, but it also gives us right perspective by reconnecting us with something much greater and vaster and higher and better than our daily struggles. Wonder is the ultimate homecoming, returning us to the world that we came from and were in danger of losing.
I am not alone. I am a seeker trying to feed this wonderlust. Artists, scientists or simply wonderers. Here it is, a quest for those who have refused to accept that this is it. Here is to the next song, the next scene, the next sunset, the next discovery, that twist on that next trip. Here is to those moments we cannot truly describe, to our attempts to encapsulate them and share them. Here is to our thirst, may it never be quenched. Raise your glass, here is to wonder.