Wonder and the Invisible Gorilla

Where is Your Attention?

Could anything possibly be wrong with your life which wouldn’t be instantly and remarkably improved if you could experience wonder today?

Wonder is something we feel when witnessing something unexpected, when we are able to see it newly, or truly, without filtering or adding meaning.  We observe it in an infant’s eyes when everything to them is fresh and wondrous.  Or in the young kitten entertained with great enthusiasm by the wadded up piece of paper and enthralled by the fly on the wall.  And we have felt it ourselves when we fell in love and could truly “see” the curve of our lover’s neck or chest and find their beauty miraculous.

We may experience tremendous awe observing the power of nature.

Perhaps you have been fortunate to feel wonder in unusual places, like a National Park, or in events, like a big storm.  One of my memorable experiences of wonder was viewing the eruption of Mt. St. Helens from north Portland.  What wonder I felt then!  And some fear too, in that case! That experience was unforgettable and deepened my life.

When we feel wonder, we are temporarily relieved of our burdens, worries, and obsessions. Our bodies are alive with feeling and tingling, our hearts open in awe and appreciation.  And (depending on our belief systems) we may feel connected to the Divine, or simply very much OK.  It brings meaning to our lives beyond words.

But why is wonder so rare?

Our brains are built for survival.  It serves our survival to notice new things just long enough to quickly categorize them: “fight it, flee it, feed on it, f**k it, or forget it”.  And the vast majority of images, sounds, and other sensations which come to us, our brains have long since unconsciously decided to forget…to ignore as irrelevant to our survival.

By tuning out what our brains have determined is meaningless to our survival, we have brainpower available to notice new things, things which might prove very important.

But what is the price we pay for this efficient survival strategy? That price is dear indeed…the loss of wonder, because our brains have automatically filtered so much from our awareness that we miss a great deal!

Watch this short video now for a powerful demonstration of this filtering.

Do we have to just be satisfied with wonder as a very rare experience?  How long must we bear the emptiness of missing that “wondrous” feeling?

Could we possibly bring it back into our lives regularly?

We can’t just turn it on like a switch. Then it could hardly be unexpected, could it? But we can definitely improve our odds.  One of the greatest obstacles to experiencing wonder is our strong cultural valuing of a left-brained “fix-it” attitude towards our life.  If we have come to believe (consciously or unconsciously) that our worth is measured by our ability to accomplish measurable things, produce outcomes, and solve problems, then the world has become no longer our playground, but our sweatshop.  And we have forgotten how to experience wonder.

There are many ways to begin to turn this around.  Here’s one for starters.

Stop reading at the end of the next paragraph.

Raise your eyes and soften your focus so you can perceive across your entire field of vision.  Do the same with your ears, taking all sounds in, focusing on none.  Listen for the faintest sound you can perceive.  Can you sense energy in the room?  How does your skin feel?  It takes a time for the nervous system to slow down, so give this several minutes. Ignore your impatience for “something to happen”. Simply notice. Take it all in without trying to change, judge, or draw meaning from anything.

Stop reading now and try the above.

Did you notice things you’d previously tuned out?

There are unlimited experiences available every day in your life which could evoke your sense of wonder.  Taking time to slow down our problem-solving (left) brains and shifting our attention to our experience in the moment (right brain) is the beginning of restoring lost wonder.

Now, to conclude, for a little experience of wonder, watch this video, especially if you saw the gorilla!

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Your comments, questions, and stories are welcome below. I will respond.

Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing® to help people release unresolved trauma. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at www.releasingthepast.com.

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