Waking Up To Wonder

August 20th, 2012

How long does it take you to wake up in the morning? I’m not talking about opening your eyes. I’m talking about opening your mind and letting it be blown by the wonder of being alive. Often, we are still asleep when we get out of bed. We leave the house and amble through the day in a sleepy haze. How amazing would it be to get out of bed fully awake with jaw dropped and eyes eager, and live with the vivid clarity of a clear blue sky?

All it takes is time and attention. American artist Georgia O’Keeffe said,

Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Imagine living your life with this sort of alertness and timeless wonder. You would have all the time you need and more wonder than you could imagine. There aren’t even words to describe this way of living. Words sometimes even get in the way of wonder.

Legend has it that Buddha gave one of his last sermons without using a word. His disciples were gathered in nature and Buddha stood in the middle of the group holding a single flower, roots and all. He stood there in silence just looking at the flower. He then walked around the group and showed the flower to each student. Most of them had no idea what he was doing. But one, Mahākāśyapa, truly saw the flower and started grinning from ear to ear. Mahākāśyapa became one of the first successors to the Buddha.

Buddha is reported to have later said,

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

If you see ANYTHING, clearly, as it is, it will change your life. See any ordinary moment with extraordinary clarity, and it will change everything. Seeing something clearly is to see without prejudice, without assumptions, without judgment, without labels and without forming conclusions. See anything exactly as it is, and not as you wish it were or need it to be, and it will change your life. Anyone can look at a blue sky but if your mind is clouded by judgment, it will JUST be yet another blue sky.  Remove the clouds from your mind, and you will see a blue sky miracle.

The poet W B Yeats said,

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

Miracles are all around you, awaiting your attention. They are the moments that take your breath away.  And they aren’t all sweet and tender moments. They are also raw experiences like a wild storm or watching a friend die. They have their lessons too. Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trumpa said, “When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish.”

Imagine living your life with this surrender and clarity. There would be no such thing as regret. Mary Oliver put it like this in her poem When Death Comes,

When it’s over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

From this perspective, nothing is sacred in itself. We make things, events, places, and people sacred by our clarity and attention. At the same time, everything has the potential to become a sacred experience. There are no sacred moments, just moments you make sacred with loving attention. There is no sacred music, just music that moves you to live with greater harmony. There are no sacred spaces, just spaces that connect you to the spaciousness within. Sacredness is a mindset; it’s coming from within you.

Joseph Campbell described this perspective in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

An ancient Hindu holy man propped his feet on a sacred symbol by the Ganges. A Sikh passing by asked him how he dared to profane the religious symbol. “Good sir,” he replied, “I am sorry; but will you kindly take my feet and place them where there is no such sacred symbol.” The offended Sikh took the man’s ankles and moved his feet first to the right, then to the left, but — to his amazement — in every place that the feet touched, a new symbol sprang from the ground. Finally he understood. There is no place that is NOT holy when you tread mindfully.

When I ran a church in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, we tested this idea by turning the sanctuary of the hundred year old white stone Gothic cathedral into a party venue. The building even has a 1300 year old stone from the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey. On Saturday night, pews are moved and local people drink and dance under strobe lights. On Sunday morning, pews are relocated and people gather to do church. It’s the same space, but used by different people for different purposes. I attended both, and experienced both as sacred.

It helped us to break down the false distinction between sacred and secular. Religion has no monopoly on the sacred. In fact religion can often get in the way of experiencing the sacred by overlaying experience with language and beliefs. Waking up has little to do with religion. Religion may offer language for some to describe their experience, but it’s an experience that transcends religion because it transcends language. As Psychologist David N. Elkins said,

Spiritual development is not about religious rituals and practices; it is about waking up to the wonder of life.

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  1. Bill Lawton says:

    An exciting and challenging perspective on the sacredness of all things and experiences. Thank you

  2. BobHetherington says:

    So inspiring, as always.

  3. Diane Linsley says:

    A beautiful article. Thank you for putting words on a perspective that is hard to describe, but often felt.

  4. Pauline says:

    I wish we had an app that would randomly beep through out the day to remind us to slow down and really look at the beauty around us. I need something to help me break the rush- through-my-day habit! 

  5. Amy Junod says:

    Loved this article. In a world where so much value is placed on material gain and status it is so nice to view a different perspective.

  6. Janel says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece! Peace & Love

  7. Beth says:

    Dan Fogelberg’s To The Morning, similar thoughts. Mary Oliver the best and
    yes, even though I am living in a hotel right now because my husband is being treated
    across the street at a hospital, each day, each day…hold it in your hand.

  8. ian says:

    Best thoughts to you and your husband Beth.

  9. Joy Campbell says:

    Beautiful words Ian. You are able to express in clear words and pictures the deeply felt things. Have you read Stephanie Dowrick’s “Seeking the Sacred”?
    Thank you Ian for daily inspiration and affirmation.
    PS> There are mindfullness apps that DO beep or whatever throughout the day to remind of mindfullnes. I haven’t tried them yet…….

  10. Tim Robert says:

    Very cool perspective. As a producer/DJ of electronic dance music who believes strongly in the transformative power of dance, I think it’s especially cool that you used a cathedral for a dance party, and I applaud your courage in saying that you experienced both church and the dance party as sacred.

  11. Beautiful post.  Thank you.

  12. Jasna says:

    I am in peace with myself and world around me.I left all material thinks(flat+money) to other-to the children of my relatives.Because nobody knows when death will come. I am not afraid to go forever away from this world.I can accept without fear  life or death, death is even more welcome  in my health condition.Clear visions  real video,without tricks.And it was not only one ,but three more=4. But  I have created video with one because other were on other part of wintersky

  13. Eric says:

    Great writing, have been thinking about this idea today. The feeling of opening your eyes and really seeing things with God eyes after reading the four agreements, cool seeing you talk about it here. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Barnabas Oluwaleye says:

    This is absolutely wonderful. So interesting is you post.

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