Awe & Wonder

A key part of an enriched life is to allow yourself to regularly experience a sense of awe and wonder.  Life without wonder is stale and mundane – a formula for restlessness, anxiety and outright depression.

Wonder is the first of all the passions.”   – Rene Descartes

What does “awe” and  “wonder” mean exactly?  Various definitions, Wikipedia entries and online articles define these concepts in a very sterile manner.  A lot of these like to split hairs about differences between the two concepts.  I’m less concerned with this type of definitional nitpicking and more interested in how they can inspire, provide joy and satiate the soul.

So what is it?  From my perspective, I see two essential elements that drive awe and wonder:

  1. Any element of nature, art, music, literature, science/technology or the spiritual/religious far enough outside our habitual familiarity (normality) that can cause us to be suddenly amazed, blown away, inspired, excited, astonished, reverent, emotional and appreciating.  The things that come to mind include grand & gorgeous vistas, mountains, waterfalls, starry skies, the immense universe, a magnificent storm, an extraordinary piece of art, marvelous music, etc.  It can even include a reaction of amazement, satisfaction and admiration noticing something simple such as a blooming flower or a spider and its intricate web – things that normally escape our notice but brings us back to a child-like appreciation and wonder.
  2. One element that I feel is sadly overlooked in most people’s minds when considering awe and wonder is something for which I can attest provides immense joy & satisfaction – knowledge discoveryKnowledge Adventurers have a definite opportunity to experience awe and wonder while uncovering heretofore unknown extraordinary facts and incredible truths (unknown, at least to ourselves and most culturally indoctrinated people).

We should love and embrace dazzling beauty. . . . aesthetics & literature . . . . human achievement . . . . a beautiful puzzling mystery . . . . as well as elegant thought.   Open our minds to experiencing new things . . . . elicit curiosity . . . . engage and enliven our senses . . . . allow ourselves to be inspired and uplifted . . . . to pause in life for contemplation of nature and reality . . . . feeling the joy in simple pleasures . . . . embracing a heightened state of consciousness . . . .

This infusion of joy and satisfaction doesn’t come without some effort on our part. We must be open to such experiences.  Spending our entire lives inside the office or sitting on the couch watching television will not produce awe and wonder.  Never questioning anything will not produce awe and wonder.  Never venturing beyond your normalcy and comfort zone will not produce awe and wonder.

We need to make it a point to get out in nature and truly appreciate its beauty and wonder.  Get out . . . . pause . . . . release your tension . . . . observe and notice the simple as well as the grand . . . . look at things in a new way . . . . don’t take anything for granted . . . . ask questions about what you see . . . look for new answers to old questions . . . . soak it up . . . . be curious . . . . be humble . . . . open your heart . . . . be like a child.

“The Child is father of the Man” – William Wordsworth

“The Child is father of the Man” – William Wordsworth

 

We wonder and awe constantly as a child. Unfortunately we go to school to have the world’s answers pounded into our head – whether truly accurate or not.  The mystery is removed.  Our curiosity is banished.  We enter adulthood and become suffocated by work, bills, consumerism, television, and any number of things that encompass the truly mundane. The comfort of our confirmation bias takes over and we don’t want anything to change or our indoctrinated beliefs to be challenged.

We come to accept:
– Conform, don’t question what’s assumed to be true
– Be complacent & acquiesce, don’t challenge the status quo
– Go along, don’t rock the boat
– Blend in, don’t stand out of the herd
– Settle for the mundane, don’t be inspired
– Ignore your boring sterile environs, continue to separate yourself from natural beauty
– Embrace the ugly and mundane
– Expect nothing and wish for less

Is this the life you desire?  I think not.

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein

“Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”  – Abraham Joshua Heschel


A couple of good online articles:

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

Bull & Bear Pub

This may seem rather trivial to most (I have to remind myself I’m not writing to “most“), but a large part of my appreciation and embellishment for an enriched life consists of surrounding myself with a rich sensory aesthetic that speaks to my inner core.  Therefore, based on my own personal tastes and passions, that aesthetic always involves elements of knowledge, discovery, learning, beauty, truth.

On a recent Royal Caribbean cruise with my beautiful wife, daughter and son-in-law on the Freedom of the Seas, we found ourselves looking for interesting places to relax and unwind after a day of exciting excursions.  The Bull & Bear pub on the the ship’s interior promenade was such a welcoming place. While I haven’t yet traveled to the British Isles it did give me a feeling of a unique and inspiring place to imbibe and converse – one that may perhaps exist in spirit somewhere in Great Britain.

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0729161932aThe place was rather empty during the day while travelers were either on the pool deck or if docked, on an excursion, but in the evenings it was packed with patrons sampling beer and partaking in the wonderful music of a lone guitarist/singer who did such an incredible job rendering vintage hits from the 70s and 80s.  Debbie and I are not beer drinkers but they did have a decent selection of wine.

The specific aesthetic elements that caught my attention and spoke to my soul were part of the interior, and to some extent the exterior, which seemed to cater to the knowledge adventurer and discoverer!  Along the side of the pub was a wall lined with what appears to be a well-stocked library (probably a facsimile).  And in the middle, a display case of “evolutionary” skulls (no doubt replicas).

0726161923d0726161923a0726161923cStill . . . . . . not only did the interior speak to me, but the exterior also held some interesting surprises.  In a similar manner to the skulls display inside, the exterior windows held an interesting (although nearly hidden) shadow-box-type display of a Cabinet of Curiosities!  The frustrating part was the glass covering this display was colored/frosted in such a way that its contents were nearly hidden in their entirety.  I attempted to snap some photos in an attempt to capture their mysteries:

0729161928a 0729161927b 0729161927aMuch in the same way that the Kunstkammer of old attempts to display an array of interesting and inspiring discoveries, this window shows a skull, armillary, coral, atlas, fish, shells, intellectual diagrams, etc – all items of discovery and adventure.

If I have to choose a place of relaxation and satiation – this type of establishment calls to my soul in spades – compared to someplace of sterile blandness.

Live life fully! Pursue experiences and settings that satiate your soul!

 

 

 

Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities)

During the Renaissance period Kings, Princes and other aristocrats who had an intellectual and adventurous bent (and wanted to show off their sophistication and wealth), created what was known as a Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer – a Cabinet of Curiosities.

What did those cabinets contain?  Well, first of all, the word “cabinet” most often referred to an actual room – not a traditional piece of furniture.  Nowadays we do have curiosity cabinets; small display units that hang on the wall or stand on the floor with glass windows to display the owner’s collection of items they’re passionate about.  Those are a direct influence and to some extent the same purpose as the Wunderkammers of old – just on a smaller scale.

In reading about the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and his support for alchemy, Hermeticism, and other Rosicrucian-type interests (much to the chagrin of the Catholic leadership in Rome), I came to discover this term Kunstkammer.  Rudolf had one that was the largest of its kind at the time – unrivaled anywhere in Europe. It apparently was a wonder to behold and housed in his palace at Prague.  Unfortunately there is nothing left of it after the Swedish forces plundered it when they took Prague in 1648.

Thanks to some early writings during the period we have some old woodcut illustrations of how these Wunderkammers may have appeared:

wk01 wk02 wk03 wk04 wk05These rooms contained whatever artifacts the owner desired. During the renaissance adventurers were returning from exotic places around the world.  Many discoveries were made particularly in terms of nature and the animal kingdom.  Frequently these Wunderkammers would contain collections of rare and bizarre creatures and other items found on these global travels.  Contents could also include antiquities, rare manuscripts, rocks & minerals, religious relics, works of art, scientific and medical instruments, automatons, etc.

These collections are a physical tribute and symbol to the mysteries of the universe and discovery.  They were the precursor to modern museums.  Unfortunately nearly all of them were decimated or liquidated long, long ago.

Even as time goes on, and museums established, the common man with limited resources still found a passion to display their prized collection. It might be a shadow box, curio cabinet, a corner of an office, or the decorative theme of a home library.

wk20 wk21 wk22 wk23 wk24 wk25 wk26The key here, I think, are exceptional individuals called by their interests – to pursue, collect, and display the fruits of their passions – those elements that resonate with their souls.  The display might be an overt attempt to impress their visitors, but more often than not I believe it is a creation of aesthetics; a way to surround themselves with objects that enhance and drive their imagination, creativity and enrichment of life.

I’m always impressed with interesting personal libraries and collections of modern individuals, but I haven’t discovered one any more impressive than Jay Walker’s Library of the History of Human Imagination.  I would dearly love to spend days immersing myself in its wonders!

My personal library is a constant work in progress/passion – all because I absolutely love surrounding myself with an artistic and intellectual aesthetic that fuels my creative drive and appeal to wonder.  I believe this is the intent of most of us who share the passion to create our own personal Wunderkammers – a tribute to the wondrousness of the world and its inspiration for us.

Satiate your soul with the wonders of the Universe!  Embrace the fascination and excitement of new discovery!  Dive deep into the little-known and unappreciated gems of the world!  Enrich your life!

 

 

Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination

One of the things that satiates my soul and ignites a spark of excitement, awe and wonder is a gorgeous and robust library.  There are two reasons for this.

  1. The vision of a plethora of books ignites a fire within.  I see the myriad of bindings lining the shelves and immediately imagine a wealth of knowledge, adventure, and discovery in their volumes!  Each tome an element on the road to ultimate Truth.
  2. But books alone don’t fulfill the equation with regards to A stunning library.  The aesthetics of the structure’s architecture and decor add an additional element of magic and excitement to the visitor’s experience.  Shouldn’t the surroundings invite the artistic and adventurous side of us to participate as well as the intellectual?

I salivate over photos and articles about the most incredible libraries around the world, and will be sharing some of those in the future.  For today though, I want to feature a more modern library that looks incredible – Jay Walker’s Library of the History of Human Imagination.

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05JWL06JWL07JWL08JWL09JWL10JWL11JWL12JWL13JWL14JWL15JWL16JWL17JWLJay Walker was the founder of PriceLine.com and Walker Digital.  He built this 3,600 square foot library which is part of his large home in Ridgefield, CT.  It’s an invitation-only private library.

The glass panels of the staircases are etched glass by artist Clyde Lynds. There are about 200 of them each showing human inventions over time.  Hidden LED lighting illuminate all the panels by computer.  Music is also computer controlled.

A video tour:

What a blissful place of discovery, imagination and knowledge!  My personal library doesn’t hold a candle to this masterpiece, but it does serve my intellectual and aesthetic passions (for the budget I have).

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

What is “Enriched Living?”

I wanted to call this category “Renaissance Living” but didn’t want to appear presumptuous or portray something I’m not. Ideally my attitude over the last 25 years has been to try and mimic the adventurous spirit of discovery that my grandmother, Elsie Lacy, embraced in her life. For me, growing up as a child, my grandmother was a beacon of getting out of her comfort zone and experiencing as much about life and culture as she could.

She didn’t have a college education but she didn’t let that deter her spirit of adventure. I’ve never been clear if she always had elements of being a renaissance woman throughout her life or just in her last 25 to 30 years. She read voraciously, she painted in oils, she learned to play the organ, she would take me and my brothers everywhere. She would take us to the fair each year and didn’t shy away from walking through the livestock pavilion and dodging animal droppings everywhere – making sure we visited everything. Some of the other places she wanted to make sure I experienced:

  • The old river wharf with its old boats
  • Regular trips to the library
  • The old Seventh Street train depot to see a vintage steam engine
  • A civil rights march in the 60s
  • Speed Art Museum
  • Shakespeare In the Park
  • Historic neighborhoods with their beautiful homes
  • Parks throughout Jefferson County
  • The Devonian fossil beds on the river
  • She took my youngest brother on a train trip to Florida to visit her son’s family

It seemed like her goal was to expand her (and her grandchildren’s) wings far beyond the mundane daily lives of most people. She even told me she shot the Falls of the Ohio in a canoe when she was a teenager. Now, that’s what I call living!

Her influence affected my greatly. I’ve always seemed to want to build, create, read, learn, discover, travel, see, do, experience – seizing as much of the vibrancy of life as possible.

My goal is to become the maximum individual I can be in this brief time on Earth; to delve into as many passions and interests as possible; and to learn and discover as much as possible.

So, for me, Enriched Living includes . . . .

  • Growth & Self-Actualization
  • Wonder & Living Enriched
  • Finances & Prosperity
  • Purpose & Vision

Growth & Self-Actualization

Move beyond self-imposed limitations. Learn and discover as much as possible. Cultivate a deep desire to constantly refine and change – to grow to my maximum. To live with an extremely high level of self-confidence. Challenge my beliefs and paradigms. Expand both my right (artistic) and left (analytic) sides of my brain. Live beyond the mundane. Question, seek, discover, soar. Create and savor an awesome, enriched life.

Wonder & Living Enriched

Seek out and appreciate beauty and wonder wherever it can be found. Satiate the soul by experiencing and creating beauty. Feed your passion for a full and meaningful life. Embrace gratitude. Live the life you imagine. Get things done. Don’t be a couch potato. Experience as much as you can. See as much of the world as you can. Live as much of a Renaissance life as possible. Expand your horizons.

Finances & Prosperity

Define your own success and prosperity. Practice some sound financial behavior. Eliminate your debt. Plan for your retirement but don’t entirely abandon a pleasant life now for a distant future. Understand “want” versus “need.” When is enough, enough? Live enriched without spending unwisely. Make smart decisions – not simply what everyone else is doing.

Purpose & Vision

Identify your mission in life. What is your purpose? What is a vision versus goals? Do some life planning. Visualize. Don’t aim too low. Tackle big stuff by ‘chunking’ it into more sizable bites. Live intentionally and passionately. Seek truth. Relish in the spirit of discovery. Think for yourself. Control your own destiny. Don’t go to the grave with the song still in you.

Enriched Living . . . .

Ultimately you should have an inner sense of genuine satisfaction, sincere gratitude, wonder and awe at the beauty of nature and resonating art, a high-level of self-confidence and growth satisfaction. Make sure you get out of your comfort zone and experience as much as possible. Create your own personal aesthetic at home that resonates with your soul (your “Elysium”).

Don’t forget that there’s even a beautiful aesthetic in discovery of little-known truths and elegant knowledge. Seek truth, beauty and freedom.