Wonder. It's well, wonderful. What else could wonder be?
Actually, quite a bit. That's a big part of the reason why wonder is wonderful, and why I'm wishing that for you, and for me, next year will be filled with it.
I was inspired to strike this theme in my final blog post of 2012 by reading Paolo Costa's essay, "A Secular Wonder," in the book that I've blogged about previously: The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now.
I love that Now in the sub-title. It's all that we have, even if we're engrossed in mulling over the past or envisioning the future, because the mulling and envisioning is happening now.
Costa reminds us that life is filled with ups and downs, pleasures and sadnesses, meaningful moments and existential anxiety.
...we cannot but struggle to feel at home in it [the world], even though such an abode has many facades and some are not reassuring at all. And that is why most of us are, most of the time, restless and dissatisfied. We habitually feel at home only by dreaming of being elsewhere. And that looks like a laughing matter, in its own way.
That's a terrific line: "We habitually feel at home only by dreaming of being elsewhere." Such is religion in a nutshell. It's a dream of another world, a higher reality, a dimension of spirituality rather than materiality.
Meanwhile, true believers in something more and better miss the wonder of what's here and now. Their consciousness is so fixated on a promise of a salvation, enlightenment, miracle, or whatever that's to come, they look past what is right in front of their God-seeking faces.
Wonder, says Costa, is a mood, not a particular perception, emotion, thought, or other experience. A mood is a "fundamental emotional attunement... a basic disposition to be affected in this or that way by the world around us."
That is why moods can also be depicted as objectless emotions, because they point in an indeterminate direction and operate for the respondent as open-ended signals... In particular, they are the background against which the particular emotions are the foreground.
...We can begin by being startled by thunder and end up in a general mood of astonishment. Or we can start off with a fearful mood and end up being startled by any sound in the surrounding ambience. Of course, there is no mystery here: it is only the nature of our life-world that makes a lasting dialectic between object and world not just possible but common.
As Stanley Cavell once put it, "Sense experience is to objects what moods are to the world."
There's lots of different moods. Moodiness isn't a particular emotional state, like that word seems to imply. ("She's a moody person" is taken to mean someone who is almost always unhappy.) Each of us sees the world through a unique pair of mood glasses, so to speak.
Wonder is a wonderful mood.
If we're fortunate enough to be moody in a wonder-filled sense, we should smile. Costa describes it, insofar as it can be described, as a bodily and mental thrill that results from an encounter with something in our world that appears new and is unpredicted.
Other words for wonder: astonishment, amazement, surprise, awe, stupor, fascination, curiosity, "startlement." (Startlement is what I felt a few days ago when I glanced down and saw rain drops on a leaf that was lying on the ground.)
Moods come and go.
Probably it isn't possible, or desirable, for wonder to be the everlasting background of our emotional/affective life. But for me it is a state I can easily return to by looking upon the world with fresh eyes, marveling not at this or that, but the simple fact of thatness.
Costa quotes Czeslaw Milosz. This is a marvelous description of what is so difficult to speak about:
I am here. Those three words contain all that can be said -- you begin with those words and you return to them. Here means on this earth, on this continent, in this city and no other, and in this epoch I call mine, this century, this year.
I was given no other place, no other time, and I touch my desk to defend myself against the feeling that my own body is transient. This is all very fundamental, but after all, the science of life depends on the gradual discovery of fundamental truths.
I have written on various subjects, and not, for the most part, as I would have wished. Nor will I realize my long-standing intention this time. But I am always aware that what I want is impossible to achieve.
I would need the ability to communicate my full amazement at "being here" in one unattainable sentence which would simultaneously transmit the smell and texture of my skin, everything stored in my memory, and all I now assent to, dissent from.
I'm with you, Czeslaw. You've won the Nobel prize in Literature. If you're enable to communicate your amazement at "being here," I'm certainly not able to either.
All I can say is that sometimes the sense of wonder I feel of simply existing here in this world strikes me as being absolutely crazy. Usually, though, I feel that now I'm the most sane I've ever been. Anyway, this sort of craziness and sanity isn't a matter of psychiatric diagnosing. It's highly subjective.
Like wonder. May your 2012 be as crazy or sane as you like. And, wonder-filled.