writer + artist

Cultivating Wonder and Imagination

with 2 comments


noun I won·der I \ ˈwən-dər \
1 a : a cause of astonishment or admiration : marvel it’s a wonder you weren’t killed the pyramid is a wonder to behold
b : miracle
2 : the quality of exciting amazed admiration
3 a : rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience
b : a feeling of doubt or uncertainty

Merriam Webster

As a child, I remember the feeling of waking up for the first day of summer vacation. There was a lightness to that morning. No time to be out the door, no schedule to abide to. No homework to think of, no expectations of after school sports practice.

There was nothing, and in that nothingness, there was the potential of everything.

That first day off felt limitless. An entire summer in front of you to be enjoyed. There might be trips planned, or certain things that needed to be done, but in those waking moments of the first morning, there was that feeling of absolute freedom.

I often wonder how children feel on summer vacation now. If they are too booked up to just get to play and explore. And even more, I wonder how we as adults work to get back to that feeling of limitlessness. With our phones, and email and Twitter feeds and to-do lists, it’s difficult to ever feel like we are in that state of an absolutely blank slate. Instead, we come to the slate with baggage and even when we wipe it clean, we’re usually bad about leaving a few things on the board. When we do that, it’s hard to be open to the world around us. We go through the motions, tick off the do to list, then start over. It’s hard to be awake. It’s hard to feel a sense of wonder.

When was the last time you felt a sense of wonder?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I rode our bicycles to our favorite nearby state park to camp for the night. It’s an easy overnight, one with enough hills on the way to make you feel like you did something. The flora and fauna is the same as at our house, but pedaling those 10 miles gives me enough physical and emotional separation that by the time I arrive and set up our tent, I am in a completely different head space. The to do lists are left behind; I refuse to pack them in my panniers.

On this evening in question, we took our late dinner down to the dock to watch the sunset. The sky filled with intense pinks and blues, reflected in the shimmering waves of the saltwater. As the sun sank beneath the horizon, the dark trees made a perfect silhouette against the sky, as if someone had cut them from paper and glued them there.

I had my feet dangling in the water. That’s when I saw it: bioluminescence.

As I ran my feet through the water, a path of blue glittering water was left behind. Every time I stuck my foot in to agitate the water, that blue would come back. The last bits of dusk eventually disappeared and night fell, and we stayed there on the dock, running our feet through the water. The darker the sky got, the brighter the blue became. Soon, we could lie down on the dock on our stomachs and look into the blackness below. After waiting a few minutes, blips of blue would light up, the result of the water moving every time a fish swam by.

I was mesmerized. I was giddy. I forgot about everything else except what was happening in that present moment. It was as if I was a child again, discovering the world for the first time. And that world was all of a sudden limitless.

Bioluminescence is caused by single-celled organisms that emit light. When the conditions are right, even putting your hand in the water turns it bright blue, or, as I recently discovered, jumping up and down on the beach near the water line, blue sparks brighting beneath my feet.

In my mind, wonder is a discovery of the unknown in the midst of the familiar. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, the landscape is familiar. There is so much in my backyard that feels comforting because I know it. But there is so much wonder to be had even in the places that we know well. In fact, often I think that having a sense of wonder in the midst of the familiar is even more important than seeking it out somewhere exotic. It’s easy to be astonished and impressed by something that you have never seen before. It’s a challenge to look at something that you come into contact with every day and see it in a new light.

Maybe it’s no surprise that it’s easier to think creatively about something that you have never seen or experienced. This is because your brain doesn’t have the ability to pull on past experiences. Which means that an excellent way to provoke the imagination, is to seek out places that you have never been to before. Places that are ripe for discovery.

Think of how inspired you feel when you go to a place that you have never been before. There are new things to see, new smells, new tastes. Everything feels like it’s activating the senses in an entirely novel way.

But the challenge is to do the same in your own backyard. Find wonder in your everyday.

Cultivating a sense of wonder and imagination at home means digging a little deeper. It means finding beauty in the small moments, as much as the larger ones. Inspecting a barnacle up close. Counting the number of rings in tree stump. Seeing how the veins of a leaf spread out. Shifting your gaze upwards and looking for bird nests in the forest.

Cultivating a sense of wonder and imagination means honing in on the small moments, finding the beauty that otherwise goes overlooked. It means finding nature not just in National Parks or wilderness areas, but also in the in-between.

Cultivating a sense of wonder and imagination means stopping, listening, breathing, not just passing through. It means being present.

There is adventure to be had everywhere. Our imagination can be sparked by anything around us. But we have to keep ourselves open to it.

We have to clear the slate and make space for wonder.

Written by Anna Brones

August 3, 2018 at 09:38

Posted in Design + Creativity

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thank you, Anna! Wonder full!!! I went for a walk today. Really, an amble, a saunter, a shuffle, a barely-there stroll. So many things to stop for! Like a white spider waiting on top of a Queen Anne’s Lace cap! Foam flowing backwards under the bridge, as the tide cones into the estuary. And a dead baby brown boa on the road, looking very much like the boa in The Little Prince! All wonderments! I was late to breakfast, and I didn’t care!

    Judi C

    August 3, 2018 at 11:09

  2. Anna…bioluminescence…so great! I did a night kayak tour last summer out of Friday Harbor. I too have lived in the PNW all my life but never seen anything like this. It was breathtaking.

    Thank you for the reminders in this post. We live in such a great place, I want to remember to drink it in everyday of summer.

    We have registered for your paper cutting class at the BARN. See you soon!


    August 5, 2018 at 09:24

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: