I’ve been thinking a whole lot about wonder since returning from my backpacking trip to Yosemite a week ago. There, wonder was the baseline. All I had to do was open my eyes, peek out of my tent or simply stand and LOOK. It was impossible not feel astonished at the earth that makes such shapes – not in order to produce beauty for our pleasure, but as a natural consequence of doing what it does, spinning through space with internal and external forces acting upon it over time. It was also easy to feel wonder at the workings of my body, how fortunate to have one that allows me experience such a place, to feel the scale of it as we circled and climbed peaks, our perspective shifting with every step. To have limbs and lungs and a heart that work, eyes to take it all in, a nose to smell the bay and butterscotch Jeffrey pines and the ozone after a close lightning strike.
Arriving back home, we unpacked and laid out all our gear, making piles all over the floor of our tiny apartment. It took 3 days to get all the dust out from under our fingernails and finish the laundry. It took me three solid days to feel something I would call wonder again, and then in fits and starts.
My yoga practice is about becoming more present, participating more fully in each moment. A wonderful side benefit of all this practice, is that for me, presence reliably produces feelings of wonder. If my practice can reliably make me more present, then I have the tools for wonder within me. In Yosemite, often, it was the beauty all around that anchored my mind and kept me present, that inspired (demanded?) awe, without any effort on my part. Yet, even in Yosemite, one can get accustomed to the beauty and become subject to human crankiness – as myself or any of my companions could tell you! But there, it also took little effort to understand the silliness of our momentary irritations in the sight of centuries of rock spires and canyons carved by ice and water. In more everyday surroundings, especially after such an experience, it takes time not only to adjust, but to get back in the practice of presence. To appreciate and enjoy those memories of the full moon rising over the peaks and the sun following in almost the same spot, but to refrain from holding onto them in favor of the everyday.
Sure enough, it was my yoga practice that brought me back to the wonder that can be found in everyday life just as surely as there, then, in Yosemite. Lying on the floor, feeling my ribs move with my breath and a widening, weary sensation in my muscles, still recovering from more work than they’re accustomed to. I marveled at this body, always working on my behalf: my heart pumping, my lungs taking in air, the same body as last week and already different with cells new and repairing and minute physiological processes going on all the time without my awareness or intervention. That process is inspiring when I reflect on it – and that process happens everywhere, everyday, in any setting or condition with infinite variations depending on my health, environment, and the work I’m putting my body through. Amazing.
This connection is the one that begins the whole process. If I can use my body to become present and to generate wonder, I can use that presence to experience all the many incredible things about my everyday – my surroundings, my environment, and the people around me. There are still intensely colored Crepe Myrtles blooming outside my door, sharing their sweet fragrance for a few more weeks (days?) before they vanish. There are still fresh summer vegetables, corn and eggplant and peppers to be eaten – No fresh veggies on the trail! The days are still long and my work is no longer climbing, it’s practicing, learning and teaching – and these things too, I can find the wonder in if I can be present. I can sit down with you – as I did with friends and students last week – and feel overwhelmed by our shared humanity, at the intentions and generosity and bravery I see all around me.
How do you find the wonder in the everyday? I’d love to hear. Does the wonder you feel in a gorgeous location or as a result of some out-of-the-ordinary experience help or hinder you from connecting with it in normal circumstances?