When was the last time you experienced wonderment?
If the answer doesn’t come immediately to mind, I highly recommend that you create the space and time to reflect on this question. Pause and ask yourself, “When was the last time I experienced wonderment–a state of awed admiration or respect for someone or something?”
When you are able to bring a moment to mind, write it down, then ask yourself: “Where was I? What was I doing? What was my state of mind? Was I harried or serene? How was my heart? Was it tense and troubled or relaxed and tranquil? Was anyone with me or was I alone?” Take notes if you’d like: put a pen to paper or keys to the keyboard. Give form to the dream; write or speak it into being.
Now that the scene is set, let the feeling memory rise up from the storehouse of your mind and heart. Ask yourself: “How did that moment feel? Did I feel connected, valued, and meaningful? Or was it better described as dread, shock, or overwhelmingness? Was it paralyzing or liberating? Did I feel relief and release or did it create in me a feeling of great obligation, duty, or responsibility?”
Wonderment comes in many forms, doesn’t it?
Why is it that wonderment feels both fleeting and indelible, memorable and evanescent? Isn’t it peculiar that we have to reach “deep down” in order to describe these moments in which we touch or glimpse the infinite, i.e. that which is above and beyond?
To my mind and heart, such experiences are the most important and illuminating moments of our lives. They activate or draw our attention to the transcendent and if we rejoice in them, they change our consciousness evermore. For many, such moments are rare, the exception rather than the rule. This is especially true of our times.
Carl Jung wrote expensively on this topic. Among the many insights he offered, this one is particularly helpful in developing an understanding both the obstacle and the way to a greater and more frequent sense of wonderment:
The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance… The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. … If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted….Jung (1965), 325. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books
We live in a time that places little value on the experience of wonderment. The merchants of rationalism and materialism have worked tirelessly to knead the sacred into the profane, to leaven the proverbial lump. Likewise, organized religions, with their rituals and rites, creeds and elaborate, yet fossilized protocols have turned the possibility of communion with the numen (the Divine) into a stale, insipid altar bread. It’s no wonder that social, political and cultural malaise are so commonplace these days! We’ve attempted once again to kill God, yet we cannot rid ourselves of our innate impulse to know the divine and to form an intimate, practical, and meaningful relationship with that which is larger than ourselves.
Jung, who took his role as a psychiatrist (literally psyche + iatros, a “doctor of the soul”) very seriously, regularly reminded other practitioners of the “…tremendously important role the spiritual element plays in the psychic economy…” Jung Collected Works 11, ¶453 Caring for the soul and drawing forth the unique purpose inherent in each one is a predominantly spiritual undertaking, not a mental or a physical one. And there is no universal solution. Each one must follow wonder and regain a sensitivity to the essential in life.
The malaise we face is primarily a spiritual hunger, one that is fed by the thoughtful and earnest examination of that which creates wonder in us. This is the only bulwark against the aimlessness and futility of having deliberately or ignorantly let our attention stray to lesser matters, i.e. “fixing our interest on futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance…”
How do we regain this sensitivity? How do we bind ourselves in reverence to that which is essential so that we discover and fulfill our unique mission in life? Jung believed that the answer would come as we sought to “regain a religious outlook.” By this he did not mean that we should all run out and join a church or evangelize based on religious dogma handed down from one generation to the next, rather, he meant that we each must let our consciousness be lifted up and refined by contact with the numinosum, day in and day out.
This may sound like a tall order, but it is actually quite simple. We all have had the experience of wonderment. They are available to each and every one of us, each and every day, but we must look for them, be open to them, be ready for them. Moreover, we must let these moments draw us into a deeper awareness of the fact that we each matter, that we are, in our essence, divine, and that our bodies, minds and hearts are designed to be vessels for the the divine spark at this level of creation. We needn’t try or try harder, this truly is a matter of letting ourselves be drawn into spiritual union with that which is above.
To some these words may sound like the ravings of a self-important, delusional madman who is set upon fabricating meaning where there is none or propping up a dead God, but to those who do not, I say let that light within you–no matter how faint it may feel or how dimly it may presently project–let the light within you shine before others that they may see the evidence of the presence of your wonderment and give due respect and attention to that which animates your Being.