Why Having a Wonder Practice Fosters Peace
“If you desire peace in the world, do not pray that everyone share your beliefs.
Pray instead that all may be reverent.”
~ Paul Woodruff
If you've read any of my blog articles or posts on my newly updated Instagram account, you will pretty quickly see my love affair with wonder, awe, reverence and finding the tiny treasures in life. And you will also see my deep passion for peace and helping to create a more beautiful world.
You may be curious how these two subjects relate. There is far more that I could say on this subject than will fit in this blog post, but I wanted to touch on four points today. These will all be explored more deeply in my upcoming course (subscribe on the side bar for the first announcements) called Awakening to Wonder.
You also might be asking, what is a 'wonder practice?' It involves many things. My entire "Wonder Wednesdays" series is devoted to my love affair with wonder and the many related states in that emotional family. When I speak about wonder, I also think about the related cluster of emotions such as awe, reverence, humility, gratitude, curiosity, openness, respect, astonishment, etc (see the word cluster below for more). Each of these has something to teach us. One of my primary wonder practices is my practice of going on Wonder Walks with my little macro lens that I put over my phone, where I slow down, tune into the moment, and go in search of tiny treasures. For more wonder practices, check out my blog on Five Ways to Experience Childlike Wonder This Summer or this one on Five Ways to Celebrate the Wonders of Nature This Earth Day, or just peruse the other blog posts and you'll find many more wonder practices.
Without further ado, here are four reasons why I think that having a wonder practice helps foster peace.
1. The Altruism Effect
"Awe is the ultimate 'collective' emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good." ~ Dacher Keltner (source)
I've written a number of times about how experiences of awe have been found to increase one's willingness to volunteer, willingness to donate, and desire to be more generous. Awe helps people feel like they are a part of something bigger and increases prosocial behavior. To read more on these topics, check out Why the World Needs More Wonder Part One and Part Two and Does Awe Increase Altruism?
If we take those research findings together, we could see a direct connection between increasing experiences of awe and increasing a more kind, compassionate, caring, generous, humble, and peaceful human presence on our planet. Dr Keltner at the Berkeley Greater Good Science Center even found that 'micro moments of awe,' such as staring up at giant Eucalyptus trees for a mere 30 seconds, can help to increase chances of doing an act of kindness (source).
Many people think that we are experiencing a collective awe deficit and that children are experiencing far less time outdoors and more time on electrical devices, craving the next dopamine hit. We've greatly reduced our time looking up at the stars, at the skies, at sunsets, and instead keep our noses down in our phones. We could all benefit from a few more micro moments of awe.
This point alone about awe increasing altruism is good evidence to help convince us that cultivating wonder is a way to help create a more beautiful world. But that is only the beginning of why I think the world needs more wonder. I think it goes far deeper.
I'm particularly interested in what the book Playful Intelligence describes as lowering our 'wonder threshold' so that it's not just visits to the Grand Canyon that fills us with delighted wonder, awe, and amazement, but that we cultivate eyes to see little wonders all around us! Like the other day when I delightedly happened upon a field of wild strawberries (pictured below).
2. Reclaim Your Sovereignty from the Attention Economy
"Product designers... play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention." ~ Tristan Harris (source)
The Attention Economy rides on capturing, keeping, and monetizing our attention. When Facebook can say it has this many people that spend this much time on their site, they can then sell ad space to other companies based on these numbers. Therefore their incentive is to keep our attention hooked as long as possible. And how do they do this? Essentially, by trying to hijack our brains and get us addicted.
One way to hijack our brains and nervous systems (that really have not evolved that much since the days of our cave men and women ancestors), is to have hyper normal stimuli. That is why the more far out jarring news headlines or 'click bait' link titles or conspiracy theory youtube videos are so popular. And the more we spiral into these hijacked states, the less control we have over our lives. To really dive into this incredible fascinating and relevant topic, check out this podcast with Daniel Schmachtenberger and Tristan Harris from Neurohacker Collective. This is not just happening with Facebook, of course. Everyone is in a constant battle for who gets more of our attention.
This is why reclaiming where you place your attention and creating a practice of focusing your attention on things of your choice, is even more powerful these days. Whether this is through a meditation practice or going on Wonder Walks, any practice you may have of consciously directing your focus is powerful.
One of the core elements of my wonder practice is working with my attention and focus. Jason Silva, a deeply inspiring self-proclaimed "Wonder Junkie," says experiencing wonder all comes down to our ability to mediate attention. He loves to talk about how we are in the midst of what he calls 'memetic warfare,' a constant battle for what information gets into our minds. As we reclaim our attention and develop more choice about where we place it, we allow the signal to come through the incessant noise.
3. Shift from Desensitization and Numbness to Increased Sensitivity and Openness
"I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation for the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness to others' pain and my passion for it all." ~ Unknown Author
One of the results of getting caught in an addictive cycle of any type, is the process of tolerance and desensitization. A gambling addiction is actually an addiction to our own dopamine. This is not much different from an addiction to our electronic devices and feeling the need to get one more dopamine hit with each like and comment and little red number that pops up to notify you of something. As with addictions to other things, many physiological processes take place, resulting in increasing tolerance and the desire for stronger stimuli needed to cause the original levels of pleasure.
This process of desensitizing oneself can produce a numbing effect and we feel the need to have more and more and more just to feel much of anything. In a world that is constantly trying to get our attention, each media headline seems more outlandish and outrageous than the last. Having worked for years in the field of substance abuse and having seen some pretty intense situations, I know firsthand the consequence of severe addictions and how desperately they can hijack our entire lives.
What I am particularly curious about is how we can do the opposite. Instead of becoming desensitized to the wonders of the world, how can we lower our wonder threshold so that we can become more sensitive and open to the immense beauty all around us in every given moment?
In a world that is wrought with addictions and with increasingly devastating issues like the opiate epidemic, learning skills to break this cycle is one way we can empower ourselves during these times.
4. Wonder as a Resource During Hard Times
Perhaps the point that feels personally most relevant in this list is this one. These last few years have been rather challenging for me. I've been struggling with chronic health issues, and activities that once felt utterly normal and took no extra thought or effort have become much harder, and sometimes are not even an option. On my low days, activities like eating a meal with friends, getting dressed and going outside in the world of fast-moving busy humans, or mustering up enough energy to engage on a phone call, have been far more challenging than I would like to admit.
Throughout this time, my wonder practice has been life-saving. My Wonder Walks, writing about wonder, researching all things wonder-related, taking photos, sitting in nature and feeling the pleasure of the sun on my skin - these have been some of my best medicine. When my nervous system was so out of balance that I would bounce between anxiety and panic attacks back to depletion and feeling like I needed to nap for months, the beauty and utter magic of watching new leaves sprout as winter rolled into Spring, kept me going. It was motivation to get myself to go outside each day so that I could witness the unfolding of the tiny buds into new leaves on the maple tree outside my door. The magic of watching life burst forth after winter brought untold amounts of joy, delight, reverence, amazement and beauty into my life. It got me outside of my personal suffering bubble and showed me a world of incomprehensible beauty and intricacies and resilience. After the frosts and snowfalls of a cold bleak winter, sprouts once again found their way up through the cold cracked earth in search of the sun, like in my macro time-lapse below.