The Experience of Wonder

How can we investigate wonder? I think that a direct, personal experience is the best starting point. So I went to my favourite public garden near home, where I love to walk or sit in a bench. I was ready to wonder looking at nature, as it often happens to me in that place, ready to catch pictures to share with you and to carefully observe all the process. 

But that morning nothing happened. Nature was beautiful as usual… but no wonder. I was a bit disappointed and suspected that intentionality was an obstacle: maybe one can’t look for wonder. If you look for it, you can’t find it.

So the new plan was to retrace some of my past walks. I wanted to find out if there were some recurring elements, – a kind of-  list of clues that characterizes the experience of wonder. In other words the underlying question is: does a common denominator of the wonder-experiences exist?

The first clue is easy and confirms my suspect about intentionality. I didn’t expect anything, I did not look for anything. Something just suddenly happened or I suddenly noticed something.

The second -ever present- clue is an inner empty space, needed for let wonder come in. My head was not busy or full of thoughts. Sometimes I was just too tired for thinking… sometimes it was Sunday or a daily break from work. Anyhow, I would generally call this quality a receptive emptyness.

Third clue: wonder happens through details and tiny things. It is delicate, it plays hide and seek and can easily disappear, for example because of haste or noises.

Clue number four: it happens through the senses, so it is mostly an aesthetic – not cognitive – experience.

I could also state that it is connected to beauty, but the word “beauty” is too general… What does it practically mean? Are there, in my experience of wonder, some recurring aesthetics qualities or some topics that I associate to beauty?

I found at least three:

  • The wind or the movement of the air
  • A special kind of light (very warm, not too strong) that interact with some surfaces, creating shadows and transparency
  • And of course leaves. Not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view and through “that” light.

I wonder (in the sense that I ask myself) if everyone -like me- has got some specific aesthetics qualities typical of their own perception of wonder – Maybe these personal aesthetics elements are somehow connected to our roots, to the physical places where we come from or even to our very first encounters with the world.

Fifth clue:  I felt immersed in what I was looking at. For a split second, my ego disappeared.  I was not Roberta Pucci, atelierista, from Reggio Emilia, etc… I was just my perception and a not-personal awareness. Also, the daily, usual perception of time changed for a little while, like a small oasis where time stands still.

This kind of feeling is as involving as fragile;  it can easily desappear, specially if I wanted to take a picture or a video of the thing that made me wonder.

So here is the clue number six: taking pictures can be an obstacle for keeping a state of wonder.

Why? I think because -for taking a picture, for example of a leaf – I need to place myself “out” of the relation with that leaf, to take an external point of view, so coming back in my shoes, getting out of the connection and looking at the leaf from outside.

This makes me think to some educational context and some teachers that overwhelm children with questions or take a lot of pictures when noticing that children are deeply involved or attracted by something… Please let’s be careful and help children to take care of their precious moments of wonder. Yes, wonder can be the beginning of a meaningful learning… but it’s not only a tool, it’s itself like oxygen for our soul. 

Finally, a last question: where does wonder happen? In my case, usually in nature… but perhaps, are there some typical wondering-places for each of us?

Is wonder potentially everywhere, but it depends on our state of mind if we can access to it?

Can the extraordinary be hidden in the ordinary?

How can these clues and a deeper understanding of our direct experience of wonder help us to support and preserve the experiences of wonder of children?

I would like to know what you think about, if you recognize in your experience my same clues, or maybe others that can be added to this map.

We are coming to the end of this short walk… thank you for joining. I wish you to enjoy the experience of wonder and take care of it.

* The text of this post was originally written for a video published in the group @TheOriginalLearningApproach. You are welcome to join the group and watch the video in the guide dedicated to Wonder, along with other interesting video on the same topic. Many thanks to Suzanne Axelsson for organizing this wonderful investigation.