Radical Amazement

This morning, I took a walk around one of the lakes on campus in the very cold (sub-zero!) and snowy woods. It’s a walk I’ve taken dozens of times before, in every season. This morning I stopped and stared across the frozen lake under its smooth blanket of snow, amazed by how quiet and peaceful and white it was. I paused to examine the mouse tracks criss-crossing the trail, noting where it had tunneled through the snow and under logs, and thought about all the life in the woods we never even see. I hope I never become so jaded that I stop noticing things like that.

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Three years ago, after I read the book Last Child in the Woods, I wrote a blog post about a particular passage where Richard Louv talks about the idea that “to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed.” You can read that post here, and the relevant excerpt from the book here. I added that line about being constantly amazed to my favorite Facebook quotes and let the idea percolate quietly for three years. Then this morning, as part of the Land Ethic Leaders training from the Aldo Leopold Foundation that we were doing at work, we revisited that piece of writing.

What Louv was talking about was how some people get the same spiritual fulfillment from time in nature that others get from church. As someone who’s never been a church-goer, it’s a little hard for me to talk about “spirituality” because it’s hard to separate it from religion. However, what I’ve slowly come to realize – what I think that passage from Last Child in the Woods started me towards – is that it doesn’t have to be about religion, it can just be about yourself, about cultivating a sense of wonder at the world so you can experience those moments “when life becomes blindingly vivid.” It’s easy to feel awe when standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, but you can foster an attitude within yourself so that you can feel something similar in your daily life. Can you feel awe when you look at (for example) a Black-capped Chickadee? Can you feel awe when you look up at tree leaves against blue sky?

I’m pretty sleepy as I type this and I might not be expressing myself all that well, but this is what’s been on my mind since this morning, and since I don’t have any fun natural history stories to share I thought I might as well share this instead. Some previous posts of mine relevant to this idea include:

How do you cultivate radical amazement in your life?

P.S. This is the training we were doing. It was awesome!

4 thoughts on “Radical Amazement”

  1. as a little kid, spirituality and religion was about fear and guilt and death and uncomfortable church basements. now, when I break open a slab of limestone to discover masses of perfectly preserved brachiopods hidden from the outside world for 300+ million years, or I pick up a broken arrow point flaked by some ancient unknown craftsman, or when I peer through my microscope at gorgeous green filaments of algae with daphnia swimming around in it’s own private microcosm in a n old peanut butter jar sitting on my window sill, then I feel that sense of awe and wonder that I guess some people (mis)apply the term “spiritualism”. It’s only by taking time to observe, think deeply, to become aware of the greater (or lesser) world(s) around me and how complex and interconnected they and we all are; by “unweaving the rainbow” to steal a phrase, do I truly feel that overwhelming sense of awe and wonder that I assume others might mean by “spiritualism”, and I cannot help but feel that the rest of the world, with it’s books and prayers and hymns, intensely staring inward, are missing the best bits of life by trading it for their imagined immortality.

  2. I’m way behind on reading blog posts, but this a beautiful piece Rebecca! I really need to read Last Child in the Woods. It’s just sitting there on my shelf, waiting in line in the queue of unread books. Think I might need to move it up…

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