Awe and Wonder

Posted by Sooz on Monday, December 19, 2011 | 3 Comments

There are those rare and unforgettable moments in life when something is so mesmerizing, so captivating and full of beauty that you are arrested by the sum of it. Times when you are sure there is something behind the scenes, something powerful, creative, and infinitely good orchestrating the experience. I remember feeling that way as I stood high in the snow capped Alps of Austria along the Alpine Highway, watching heaven and earth meet in the clouds. I also felt it the moment I first held my children, counting fingers and toes, wondering how in the world my heart could exist outside my body in this little being. Not to gross you out, but I also felt it in college when, in physiology class, I dissected a bulging cow eyeball – what a miracle that this mass of flesh and fluid allows us to see! Think of it, we are surrounded by deafening declarations of wonder – staggering signs of beauty and love at work in the tiniest details like sand and snowflakes. Awe and wonder speak to our very souls and try to awaken our hearts.

Grains of Sand








The following video is a breathtaking moment caught on film. Two unsuspecting girls are swept up in a murmuration of Starlings while canoeing on the River Shannon in Ireland.  The moment is spectacular and unforgettable…

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

I’m not really able to tell you how many times I have watched this because I have lost track. I am a sucker for amazing, wondrous, gasping for air moments. I wanted to talk to you about it because I want to encourage you to consider how vital it is to allow yourself to detox from cynicism from time to time – to let yourself be taken up in the moment – defenses down – heart open.  I have come to believe that awe and wonder are not meant to be fleeting visual effects to “wow” us in the moment, but rather, they are generous gifts to ground us.

Often we are caught up in the clamor of everyday life to the point that we barely enjoy our days and we forget that life is amazing. We become hardened by the daily blasts against our hearts. It is no wonder that over time we begin to shut down – to silence the intuitive voice within and use only our thinker. Life can start to seem more violent than vivid, more angry than alive, more caustic and threatening than captivating. I believe that moments of awe and wonder are meant to invite us to see and recall that just beyond the veil, there lies something more real than  anything we can see. There is something that ties us all together and it is astoundingly creative, ridiculously obsessed with beauty, and quite compelling a romantic. It calls, it draws…and it invites you to seek it out – to know it.

Here is the fascinating part about the murmuration video to me. You just can’t watch the thing without wondering – How? How do they fly in such a massive flock, dipping and swirling without crashing? How do they know what pattern to follow; how to stay together; when to stop? Modern science is only now beginning to understand – and the implications are surprising.

Brandon Keim from Wired Science writes this…

“Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modeling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics.
Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.
At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality is created and maintained.
It’s easy for a starling to turn when its neighbor turns — but what physiological mechanisms allow it to happen almost simultaneously in two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds? That remains to be discovered, and the implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.”

So what does all that mean? Here’s what I’m taking away… These birds are connected – individual, but connected. Together they can function almost as one. There is something in them that hits “critical mass” and tips – like the moment at which water turns to gas.  When that happens they shift together. There are indications that this principle goes deeper in the universe than we realize.

So what if people are connected too? There are scientific studies that support the idea of Global Connectedness (see Global Consciousness Project, Princeton University). What if we are built to shift together, but our lust for individualism has disconnected us. What if we could shift together toward Goodness?

Awe and Wonder…….

 A “Good” Idea:

Consider the importance of Awe and Wonder in your life. What holds you back from letting it in? Can you spend some time in nature where wonder is so easily available?

What do you think about our interconnectedness? What if humanity could shift toward a more ”goodness” focused way of being?  Would you bend?


3 Responses

  1. bill kreul says:

    It is so easy to forget that we are connected. The birds have had a lot of practice at moving around together without hitting one another. I want to believe that the dominant species could interact closely without injuring one another.
    You have just sent us a reminder that we are connected.
    Thank you

  2. Debbie says:

    “Often we are caught up in the clamor of everyday life to the point that we barely enjoy our days and we forget that life is amazing.” New Year’s Resolution: carpe diem; heed the wise counsel that this post offers. Pursue a well-functioning life by intentionally looking for the awe and wonder all around us, by pursuing meaningful connections. Thank you for this!

  3. J.Caroline Boatright says:

    The last time I was in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I was drawn toward the river by a murmuration of starlings, dipping and swirling in the evening sky – I wanted to see where they were going to roost, and came finally to stand near a small clump of trees in the middle of this very urban environment. I watched them for 15 minutes, and only took my eyes away to look around for all the other people I knew must be mesmerized as well – and there was only one other person watching, a young woman who had stepped outside the shop where she worked to see this amazing sight. We smiled at one another, glad to have another witness fully present, and she said – they do this almost every night, and hardly anyone ever stops to notice them. I started making eye contact with children walking by and told them to look at the birds, look at the birds! Their parents reactions spanned from “they’re just birds, we have to go” to “Oh WOW – LOOK at the birds!”, but everyone stopped for a moment to gaze up at the sky and at lest let their little ones enjoy the show. Of all my New Orleans memories, this is one of my favorites.

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