As life on this planet takes me into 80 years plus, I find myself facing the inevitable: I am slowing down. Know the feeling? We all do it differently, but indeed, old age will eventually slow us down. For me, challenging hikes I had taken a few years ago are now impossible. I find myself walking with a cane where I once ran. (At least this was true until I fell against a wall last week and broke my treasured cane.) Exercise remains important, but it is not as strenuous as it used to be. Large social events and activities do not consistently draw my presence as they once did. This morning I sit quietly in the backyard drinking a cup of coffee and thinking how fortunate I have been to live this long, and only break my beloved cane and not me in last week’s fall. I am not worried thinking I should be doing something, rather, I am comfortable in my world that has insisted on slowing down.
Not Everything Slows Down
Not all has slowed down, however. Some things have grown stronger and more active. Surprising moments draw interest and appreciation as never before. For me there is new found wonder in observing birds flying, bees buzzing, cats purring, snails moving slowly along, and a phone call from an old friend. I can get lost staring into the eyes of my 12-year-old Shih Tzu. I wonder if he feels the rapport as I do. I observe the sunlight dancing from tree to tree as my old eyes look up and catch a self-confident hawk overhead. I quietly smile. Ah, the wonder of it all.
The Oxford dictionary defines wonder as a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Wonder allows us to see beauty in a rose, enjoy oneness with an ocean wave, and find love under the moonlight. All transcending rational thought. Emotions are stirred. Curiosity is enhanced. Wonder grows.
in dawn’s glow
even more of a wonder…
The Philosophy and Science of Wonder
Both Plato and Aristotle understood wonder as the starting point for all philosophy. Socrates agreed, and put his thoughts this way: “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” The Greeks understood philosophy as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Albert Einstein added the claim that a scientist who can no longer experience wonder “is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.”
In the past century radical change has taken place in physics. While I would not pretend to understand the new physics, I am aware that in just a few decades relativity theory and quantum physics have altered our fundamental view of reality. At a quantum level we are more than observers of reality we are participants in its creation. Wonder.
Quantum physics borrowed the word “synchronicity” from Carl Jung who first coined and defined it as “circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection.” Jung worked with Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli and Albert Einstein in determining that the laws of causality do not always apply to reality. Classical cause and effect science has its limitations…and wonder grows.
Einstein concludes: “The most beautiful thing we can experience in life is the mysterious.”
Joseph Campbell, American writer and mythologist, joined the chorus: “The separateness apparent in the world is secondary. Beyond that world of opposites is an unseen, but experienced, unity and identity in us all.”
Wonder focuses our awareness on what is right before our eyes. It lessens self-focus and separation. We forget ourselves and even the passing of time as we are lost in wonder and experience ‘the unity and identity in us all.’ Wonder arouses both our intellect and our emotions.
The Return to Childhood
Wonder calls us to return to childhood, that is, childhood as a mode of consciousness, not a chronological age. It seems, however, that as we grow out of chronological childhood, it is easy to leave behind the shimmering grass and the dazzling sky, the shape of a horse painted in the clouds, the beauty found in a post-rain spider web, the joy of playing with a “roly-poly bug,” and the excitement of having a color-changing chameleon rest on our shoulder. When we let go of childhood wonder, there is a diminished rapport with the present moment and with ourselves that can lead to selfishness and, hence, loneliness.
Viewing the world in wonder is an attitude of synchronicity, of relatedness. I am learning (still a student) to see with childlike eyes once again, to experience rapport or even a oneness with all that is. I watch in amazement a small lizard doing pushups on our backyard fence as a tiny bug of some kind walks across my wrist. All three of us share life at this moment in our vast universe…and wonder grows.
The poet Joyce Kilmer in 1913 wrote these familiar words looking out from her bedroom window in rural New Jersey: “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Wonder.
And Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Wonder.
Aging can be difficult. Loss is real. And yet, amid dramatic personal change and, at times, a complex and frightening world, old age can draw us into each new day where the sun may shine or rain might fall, and where miracle and mystery abound…and wonder grows.
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization.
Now Available: THE MOON at the WINDOW
***All royalties from “The Moon at the Window” go to support the work of Smart Strategies for Successful Living.
About the Author: With a sprinkling of exuberance and vitality, Dr. Cobbs is an accomplished author of three books and numerous articles published in different venues throughout his life. Dr. Cobbs’ first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A spiritual approach to Aging (2008), offers a thought-provoking interpretation of the interplay between how to live life with meaningful intentions and the eventuality of coming to terms with death. His second book, Ravenwind (2019) delves into the raven’s role as it relates to Native American myths, legends, and folktales and global history. His reflections on the spirituality of living and dying depicted in his books are threaded throughout the short essays posted on the website for “Smart Strategies for Successful Living” and in his latest book, The Moon at the Window.
Smart Strategies for Successful Living provides an international format for writers to share research, thoughts, and experiences on aging well. One of our writers, Hartzell Cobbs, has compiled and edited articles from the past four years and put them in book form. “The book reveals the thoughts and emotions old age has dealt me” says Hartzell. “I have been surprised by how many aging people have similar experiences to my own.” The book has its genesis in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and concludes with reflections in the silence of the Arizona desert.
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On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a special thanks goes to Hartzell Cobbs for his brilliant works as a guest writer and for donating the book royalties from “The Moon at the Window” to us. We greatly treasure his talents and generous support of our website.