To Simply Exist is Not Enough

Posted onCategoriesThat Sense of Wonder

~Roga Danar – Star Trek: The Next Generation

Why am I reading “That Sense of Wonder”? This is why… because it is not enough to simply exist. Perhaps it may be helpful to add some more context… you know… For those of you who have not seen the episode  somewhen within the last 30 days… as I have…

Prime Minister Nayrok : You were programed to survive. You can survive at the Lunar V settlement.
Roga Danar : To survive is not enough. To simply exist… is not enough!
Counselor Deanna Troi : Roga, tell them what you want.
Roga Danar : We want our lives back. We want to come home.

You and I were also programmed to survive. Granted we do not have the strength and capability of Roga Danar, but our instinct is to fuel for another day of survival in the world, however harsh it has become. The thing I find interesting about life is that it feeds upon itself. Even a vegetarian must end the existence of a clearly living thing in order to perpetuate its own life. Perhaps this explains in some small part why it is not enough to simply exist… we know our existence has a cost on others. We may forget the fact… it seems unlikely we would want to keep such a thing on our foreheads… but some have.

Some Native American traditions obligated the hunter to express gratitude to their prey – “Thank you for the life”.  Life is hard, and sometimes smelly. It is not enough to simply exist through it. We need higher things to justify the cost, the effort, the pain. We need things like meaning and purpose and value. Only these sorts of things can justify the stink we mire through, the stench we inflict on others along the way. Meaning and purpose and value, and maybe-perhaps another or two such things, are related to each other… connected to the very idea of existence.

This would seem only true for those living things capable of asking questions about existence. For those living creatures which lack the capability of inquiry, perhaps it is enough to simply exist… they were programmed to survive as we were. They run from predators in fear and panic – something drives them to live another day. I cannot know their mind, but either they have meaning and purpose baked in to such a degree that they never need ask about it or question it, or it just does not apply. We humans are different. Maybe it is only because we can ask the questions that they come to matter so much.

We want our lives back. We want to come home. In a place absent meaning and purpose, we feel exiled, lost and wandering. We long to return to where we belong if only because it is where we belong. If it were enough to simply exist, we would have no need of others. We are not that sort of creature however. Few can endure total isolation from a place of belonging – and those that do hide themselves away usually return with treasure to share. Or madness…

Story is a major method of experiencing “home”, of feeling like we belong, of seeing our feelings in others and living their experiences vicariously. Story is where we find truth, and truth is one of the main components which connect us to each other – which allow us to feel belonging, to feel “home”.  Wonder, I suspect, lives in that place within us where Story has power. Wonder, I think, either is or somehow fuels the fire of hunger for the things we need beyond mere existence. I’m not sure how just yet… and I’m not certain of any of this… but I have strong suspicions to work with and refine from here.


Posted onCategoriesThat Sense of Wonder

You know what the problem is with the world today? Everyone is being forced to “grow up”…

I’m not suggesting people should remain immature and childish. I suspect, however, that we are losing our sense of mystery, our need for mystery, and this is a bad thing.

Since I was quite young I have been attracted to music. Well… perhaps a better word is ‘addicted’ or maybe ‘obsessed’… at the very least – fanatic. I particularly love guitar music – whether rock or metal or blues or country or, as I am listening to right now, classical acoustic. I have purchased a small handful of guitars with the intent to learn how to play. I learned to read tab and memorized the frets and practiced a few scales and chords and then I lost interest. I love guitar music. I don’t, as it turns out, much enjoy making it.

Francesco Dimitri helped me understand why as I read this chapter. He found himself fascinated with magic tricks and it seemed to him a logical next step to learn how to perform magic tricks. But he could not experience the same attraction for making magic as he felt for experiencing it from the side of the audience. He talks about how magic has two aspects – the ‘effect’ and the ‘method’. The effect is the amazement the audience feels when experiencing a magicians performance. The method is how the magician does the performance. As long as the audience is engaged with the effect, enchantment reigns. As soon as they peak behind the curtain to discover the method, disenchantment begins.

Modern science is intent on pulling back the curtain and disenchanting us all. You may think this a “good thing”. Perhaps in some cases it is better than destructive superstitions about ‘the wizard’ and its will. Much good, however, is erased when the curtain is pulled back. We are losing things which make us human… maybe… perhaps…

Love, for example, depends on mystery, on the unknown. Discovery is grand and delightful thrill, but the undiscovered… ahh… that is what motivates us to give our hearts away. I am confident that it is possible to know a person very well and still love them – despite the statistics perhaps – but in a relationship neither person is a static thing, like a book from 1907. Each day produces new pages for your reading pleasure. Sure, there are the occasional oddballs who read the last chapter first but I shall suggest that is a toxic symptom of our cultural age.

Can we Train our Wonder?

Posted onCategoriesThat Sense of Wonder

Can we be taught, or even train ourselves to wonder more? To wonder ‘better’? The author talks about both senses and emotions being “trainable” and I think I agree with him, though some may be more and some less difficult to shape into a desired form. At some very very basic level… we get better and what we do often.

Grandmaster Liu has said:
“Whatever you practice you become. Practice being healthy and you become healthy. Practice being relaxed and you become relaxed. Practice compassion and you become more compassionate.”

“We create our habits and then… our habits create us.” ~Someone Else Has Said

Perhaps it is not enough just to do something often however… There is a certain science to improvement – essentially we must practice with awareness and intent to improve. In other words, mindless practice is not really practice. This applies to sports and musicianship and martial arts – things we typically do with our bodies, but wonder would seem to be a mindful art all by itself. Can we become more aware of our awareness? I think yes.

So how? Well I’m expecting this book to provide such guidance, but it seems to me that a good place to begin might be replacing a lot the “answers” we cling to with questions. If I already know everything… I’m going to wonder about very little. This is actually a huge area for discussion, bringing to mind the zen concept of Beginners Mind along with other principles of Chan Buddhism, Daoism, Christian Mysticism and probably a few other traditions.

To summarize the point:
A student travels far to visit a master he was referred to. Upon arrival the master invites the student to join him for tea.

While the master is pouring tea, the student talks about the many things he has learned, hoping to impress the master and so become his own student.

The master continues pouring, even when the cup is filled to the brim. The cup soon overflows, and the student can no longer pretend not to see it.

“It’s overfull, Sir!” Exclaims he. “No more tea will go in!”

“You are like this cup,” says the master. “How can I give you anything unless you first empty your cup?”

Beginning in wonder

Posted onCategoriesThat Sense of Wonder

Francesco Dimitri opens with a recap of Plato writing in Theaetetus a dialogue between Socrates and his student. Theaetetus admits that he is ‘amazed’ by the day’s lesson and then Socrates declares “You must therefore be a philosopher, as wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”

In his Words:
“For an ancient Greek, the word ‘philosophy’ (‘love of wisdom’) had a quite different meaning from the one it has for us today. .. ‘philosophy’ could express itself in theories about the cosmos, in poems and in riddles, and often in a mix of all three. So, when Socrates says that philosophy begins in wonder, he is actually saying that everything that makes us human – science, art, religion, you name it – begins in wonder. From practical questions about tool-making and house-building to spiritual ones about the nature and power of the gods, it all stems from there. Socrates’ questions to Theaetetus weren’t intended to be answered, but to awaken the boy’s sense of wonder.”

This passage is indeed an inspiration for me, it is precisely how I see this blog forming over the next period of time. “Questions to awaken wonder”… questions about various fields of science, about art and poetry and story craft, about the gods and God and me.

So join me in this study if you wish, see if you can generate some excess of wonder in your heart and mind.

Thank you for reading. I hope to earn your appreciations.

That Sense of Wonder

Posted onCategoriesThat Sense of Wonder

Currently Reading Series

I’ve been writing this blog for some many years now, not extensively, nor really all that seriously, but an underlying theme has been process and outputs of wonder. As I revamp Spare Wonder, it seemed reasonable, to me at least, to begin with a book on wonder as a practice. Some books investigate wonder as an emotion – which seems off-center to me, though I do think the practice of wonder will present emotional responses. This book seems, from the outset anyway, to consider wonder a “sense” – but one which we tend to tamp down as we exit childhood.

In Their Words:

“All of us experience a sense of wonder at some point in our lives. Perhaps you felt it when you experienced your first kiss; when you grasped the perfectly balanced beauty of an equation; or when you first saw the rose windows of Chartres Cathedral? Whatever the circumstances that triggered the feeling, you were left speechless by this extraordinary world of ours. We may speak different languages, cling to different ideas about politics, religion, and love—but a longing for wonder connects us all through space and time. Wonder is the impulse behind scientific and philosophical inquiry, artistic creativity, and spiritual yearning. It is the most fruitful human sense: firing our curiosity; inspiring us to hope and dream. But our sense of wonder—that feeling we had as children seeing the Milky Way for the first time—gets used up. Faced with the practical demands of adulthood, we trade a sense of wonder for a sense of reality, which all too often brings anxiety and unhappiness in its wake. By exploring the nature of wonder in many areas of human experience, from the natural world to the spirit world, from science to storytelling, Francesco Dimitri reveals how we can reclaim our sense of wonder—not to become children again, but to become happier and more fulfilled adults, better equipped to face the challenges of modern life.”