The older I get, the younger I feel.
And I’m not talking about in my body.
When I was young, I was always teased for being “a little adult”. I was so serious! I didn’t smile much, and I used big words. I’m not sure why I was like this – I just remember feeling very aware of the weight of the world beginning at a very young age. Perhaps I was depressed. Doctors today might be able to figure something like that out, but 35 years ago or so, pediatric medicine wasn’t yet thinking along those lines.
When I was almost 11, I developed anorexia, and then I became serious in earnest. It wasn’t until I reached about age 35 that I started to really lighten up. I guess I just got tired of being such a serious person. One day I discovered how much I loved to laugh, and that it made me feel good when I laughed with others. Suddenly friends (also a commodity in precious short supply until around that time – no real mystery why) started telling me I was funny.
I started to realize they might be right.
Today, I see so clearly how I am like Benjamin Button on the inside. I started out old and serious and as I progress into my 40’s I am year by year becoming younger and more whimsical. These days, I have a deep and delightful dedication to what might be called “retaining a sense of wonder” – or, more accurately, retaining my right to feel and use my long dormant yet still innate sense of wonder.
We all have one – or at least I believe this is true for each human being. For those who lack it, they can stand in front of the Grand Canyon unmoved or turn up their nose at Niagara Falls. The rest of us are genetically unable to pull this off, because our sense of wonder refuses to let us.
Yet too many people I meet and talk to – whether because of health, finances, a recovery battle they are in the midst of, a relationship gone south, career challenges, or other issues – seem to have forgotten their sense of wonder. I know I did for many, many years.
I am also quite aware that sometimes other adults seem to find it quite funny how I can become so transfixed by a chirping bird or croaking frog, or some other simple marvel – it is a different (more judgmental, perhaps?) kind of humor than what watching a young child doing the same might provoke. But I lost too many years to my eating disorder, to depression, to panicked anxiety, to hopelessly unresolvable romantic woes, to not want to pack the years I have left with as much wonder as I can hold, which is more and more each day, thankfully.
One of my favorite mentors, the famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke, writes in “Letters to a Young Poet” the following words of advice to his young mentee – a young man who is trying desperately to work out what Rilke calls a “beautiful anxiety about life”:
“If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”
Rilke writes of the absolute rightness of being in retaining a sense of wonder, in actively cultivating it, because it will help us survive those many moments in life when we become aware of how little we know now, how much we will never comprehend, and how ill-equipped we are to live out our own lives in advance of ourselves, no matter how much we might desperately desire to do so in order to forestall the disasters and extend the goodness available to us through careful and very responsible pre-planning.
Having a sense of wonder, Rilke (himself a solitary and sometimes tortured soul) seems to imply, makes up for all the rest – the hard times, the lonely times, the confusing times, the scary times, the times when we are bored or unfulfilled or simply drifting, unsure of who we are or what to do next….
In those times, we stop. We marvel. We smile. We notice – “the small Things that hardly anyone sees”, we cultivate a renewed “love for what is humble”, and we try “very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor”, we let our conscious mind remain behind, “astonished” and then suddenly life eases up again, and we find our pathway back to an us we can enjoy being, day by day, step by step.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you permit yourself a healthy sense of wonder – allowing for those sudden bursts of delight or joy to bubble up within, then sharing them with others as well? Or do you tamp down, chastising yourself for being “childish”? How does each state feel? Would you like to perhaps enjoy more of one and less of the other? If this applies to you, can you find some helpful direction in Rilke’s words?
Frog photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 19 Nov 2012