2013-10-16

A Sense Of Wonder

Blogger "electryc_jammy" over at Electryc Runner recounts a recent experience realizing that her sense of wonder at being in an airport on business was gone:
Instead of dreaming about being [a glamorous businesswoman] I now sit in the departure lounge, as one of them, dreaming about being the jogging pant, flip-flop toting tourist.  It is a strange moment in life when you realize that the things that held wonder as a child have become routine and have, very unfortunately, lost their sense of wonder.   How can I have come to a place where getting on a plane and travelling to a new place has lost that sense of wonder, regardless of the travel purpose?
This stood out to me, because it seems to run parallel to the idea I expressed two days ago, when I was talking about music:
Remember how it was in your teens, before you had heard ten variations of every conceivable musical concept, and everything you heard seemed new and magical? Remember the rush you used to get when your favorite artist would take a left turn in the middle of something, and completely blow your mind?
The magic of youth has less to do with being "simple" or child-like than it does with being new to an experience. Your first time experiencing anything will always feel more profound - even on a purely sensory level - than having the same experience for the tenth, twelfth, or n-th time. And, as electryc_jammy indicates, experiencing something vicariously through others, or from the outside-looking-in, having never directly experienced it yourself, will always carry with it a mystique that cannot be captured by firsthand experience.

There is magic there, a sense of wonder.

We would all like to retain that magic, of course. Some of us pursue it our whole lives by collecting an endless series of "first experiences." These are the adventurers, the ones who summit the world's famous peaks and travel to all seven continents. These are the ones who sky-dive, bungee-jump, and otherwise thrill-seek. We marvel at their adventurousness, but it is worth pointing out that a "first time," once had, can never be a "first time" ever again. So, before long, they're off to pursue the next "first," in relentless pursuit of retaining their sense of wonder.

Others narrow their scope. Rather than seeking out a wide array of "first" experiences, they dedicate themselves to a string of novel experiences within the same trajectory. They might learn to play a musical instrument, and thus learn a "first song," followed by a "first difficult song," followed by a "first song that I wrote myself," followed by a "first public performance," followed by a "first album," and so on. From the outside, their lives look less exciting than those of the adventurers, but on the other hand, we say that these people are talented. Really, though, they're pursuing the same kind of newness, the same kind of magic, but doing it in a different way.

I guess the pursuit of novelty is fundamental to human nature, a byproduct of mankind's great intelligence. Our ambition toward discovery and adventure propels us toward ever-greater intellectual and physical achievements. It also leaves us wistful for the times when virtually everything was new to us, so pursuing new experiences was easy. We'd merely stumble into them.

Now is the point in the blog post where you might expect me to remind you of the value of your more common experiences. You might expect me to urge you to stop and smell the roses, taking stock of the simple, tired experiences in your daily life. You might expect me to tell you that the magic is still there, if you can only train yourself to think more simply, more like a child. If you could only go slowly and appreciate what you have, you could live each day experiencing the magic you felt as a child.

But that would be wrong. That magic is gone, and its absence is urging you to propel yourself forward, toward other new experiences, and greater new accomplishments. The only way to keep experiencing that magic, the only way to retain your sense of wonder, is to live each day to the fullest. No matter how grey, how rainy, how improbable, every day offers you the chance to experience something you've never seen, felt, or understood before. But, it's up to you to choose to live your life that way. You'll get there neither through simplification nor through retrospect. You have to live.