Five Ways to Experience Childlike Wonder This Summer
“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ~ Henry James
Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. To honor this longest day of the year and the official start of summer, I wanted to share some tips for filling your summer with wonder.
If you haven't already gathered from my previous posts, I'm pretty passionate about how awe and wonder can help benefit our social and emotional wellbeing, our quality of life, and even our health. Not only that, but awe helps inspire us to be more compassionate, caring, generous, and giving. And in our world today, we could sure use more of those qualities! To read more on why I think wonder is so important, especially for these times, check out my previous posts: Why the World Needs More Wonder: Part One and Part Two as well as the article, Does Awe Increase Altruism? If you're already convinced, then let's get to it!
1. Get Outside
“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” ~ John Ruskin
I invite you to pause for a moment and imagine that you just landed on Planet Earth after having lived your whole life in a space suit on Mars. What would that be like? Really allow yourself to contemplate this. After living a life saturated in browns, reds, and grays as far as the eye can see, what would it be like to see the richness of colors we get to experience here on Earth? After living on an empty, bleak planet, what would Earth, which is just bursting with life, feel like? What would it be like to experience, witness, and get to know the vast diversity of life forms on this planet? And after living in a sterile space suite, what would it be like to smell, taste, feel, and listen to life on this planet? Sometimes we forget that we are blessed beyond measure with the incomprehensible beauty of the planet we all call home!
So why not celebrate this gorgeousness? Go for walks, hikes, swims, camping trips, or travel adventures! Sit out under large trees and listen to the wind rustling the leaves as the patterns of sunlight and shadows dance on the grass. Allow your senses to soak it all up! Not only are there many health benefits, being in nature can unlock inspiration and creativity. If you aren't able to go outside, I suggest curling up to watch Planet Earth or other great nature films. Those never cease to amaze me!
“The human venture depends absolutely on this quality of awe and reverence and joy in the Earth and all that lives and grows upon the Earth. As soon as we isolate ourselves from these currents of life and from the profound mood that these engender within us, then our basic life-satisfactions are diminished.” ~ Thomas Berry
The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence. ~ Thomas Berry
2. Change Your Perspective
“Watching the infinite horizons gives you infinite dreams, infinite ideas, infinite paths!” ~ Mehmet Murat ildan
An excellent way to induce wonder is to change your perspective. Sitting on a mountain ledge overlooking a vast horizon always brings me to a contemplative space. It can really help to put problems into perspective and remind us that we share this planet with so many other humans, each one dealing with their own issues, trying to do the best they can with what they have. And beyond humans, we share this space with so many other living creatures, each living out their lives as well.
Swimming or snorkeling are other great ways to change one's perspective, to see in new ways, and to experience a different sense of gravity and weightlessness.
Another great way to change your perspective is to take on the perspectives of others. Books, films, documentaries, and heart-to-heart conversations are all great ways to see through another person's eyes.
Thanks to Patrick Kelley for this photo (and the first rainbow picture)!
3. Immerse Yourself
“Life is nothing more than a stream of experiences - the more widely and deeply you swim in it, the richer your life will be." ~ Csikszentmihalyi
There's nothing quite like immersing oneself in a new environment. The last two points have provided some good ideas for ways to immerse yourself, but there are many more ways. IMAX theaters, with their giant screens and booming sound systems, can be a powerful way to fully lose yourself in the moment. I especially love planetariums. The last time I went to a planetarium show, I teared up the whole time because I was so deeply moved by the spectacular beauty of the cosmos.
Another amazing opportunity to experience immersing yourself in wonder is by attending the WonderSpaces traveling art show!
Check out their website to see if they will be in a city near you! This photo is of one of their art installations by Squidsoup in San Diego.
4. Go Slower, Open to the Magic
“To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe -- to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it -- is a wonder beyond words.” ~ Joanna Macy
One of the gifts of the chronic health struggles I've been going through over the last few years has been slowing down and opening up to the simple wonders all around me that I'd often overlooked in the rush of my life before I got ill. This Spring I started a practice of taking daily macro photos of the same tree as it began to blossom and sprout tiny leaves. In all my life I had never slowed down enough to really see what was happening at each stage with this tree as new life began to burst forth after winter. I felt a renewed sense of reverence for how magnificent life is, with its resilience, beauty, and exquisite unfolding.
You don't need a chronic illness to remind you to slow down, by any means! Just taking a moment each day to really allow yourself to see the tree or flower or blade of grass before you can open up new worlds. One key is not to let your incessant chatty thoughts distractedly keep you from the present moment, but instead consciously pause, notice, and allow each experience in. You may be surprised by what you've never noticed!
For example, I would have never noticed the subtle delicate beauty of this plant (below) if I hadn't slowed down on my Wonder Walk the other day.
“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Children have a natural sense of wide-eyed wonder. As we grow older, we can get accustomed to the world around us, habits can become more engrained, and we can get stuck in a dreary sense of monotony where we actually don't even take in what's around us. But this does not mean that we can't experience that bright-eyed sense of wonder and awe again! Far from it! In a recent survey that The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center conducted, they found that the older people get, the more awe they tend to feel.
An easy access point to reconnecting with that delighted childlike state is play. What better time to get outside and play than in the summer! So whether you are 6 or 96, how could you invite more playfulness into your life? What if you got some sidewalk chalk and gathered the neighbors together to add art to your sidewalks? What if you were to find those little bubble blowers or make fairy houses (one of my personal favorites when growing up!)? Or run through sprinklers? There are many ways to shake off the seriousness of adulthood and enter the realm of delight where we notice the things all around us, but with fresh new eyes.
So get out there and enjoy your summer! Please feel free to share any moments of wonder with us below in the comments, and if you want to go deeper and live a life full of wonder, you are going to love my upcoming course, Awakening to Wonder.