Gratitude and Wonder

Two questions came to mind this morning.

What did you notice today that inspired you to feel gratitude?

What did you notice today that inspired your curiosity and sense of wonder?

My granddaughter and daughter inspired my answer for today.

My granddaughter greeting the morning on Madeline Island (Photographer – Jnana Hand)

These may be questions you ask every day. From my experience, though, these are questions that are rarely if ever inspired by mainstream media. Instead, mainstream media focus on events that promote fear and anger. We are programmed to live in fear of a virus, economic insecurity, and each other. We’re constantly reminded of the egregious harm and suffering of our ancestors and encouraged to blame the descendants of peoples who are no longer living, perpetuating violent divisiveness.

Another question follows.

What if we focused on what is really important for our collective well-being and survival?

I remember the work of Louie Schwartzberg, “Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude” (TEDxSMU, December 18, 2012).

A passage from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s (2013) book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants, surfaces as I watch Schwartzberg’s film.

“Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is a language of objects. The language scientists speak, however precise, is based on a profound error in grammar, an omission, a grave loss in translation from the native languages of these shores.

“My first taste of the missing language was the word Puhpowee on my tongue. I stumbled upon it in a book by Anishinaabe ethnobiologist Keewaydinoquay, in a treatise on the traditional use of fungi by our people. Puhpowee, she explained, translates as ‘the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.’ As a biologist, I was stunned that such a word existed…

“In the three syllables of this new word I could see an entire process of close observation in the damp morning woods, the formulation of a theory for which English has no equivalent. The makers of this word understood a world of being, full of unseen energies that animate everything.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 49)

Schwartzberg’s work clearly shows the magic of those unseen energies at play.

I sincerely hope you have a chance to notice something today that inspires gratitude and a sense of wonder.

Work Cited

Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

“It All Depends on How You Look at Things”

Carol A. Hand

These were the words often repeated by the Churkendoose, a voice from the margins in the first book I remember reading as a young child (Berenberg, 1946). As a unique animal – a hybrid of a chicken, turkey, duck, and goose – the Churkendoose accepted his differences and those of others around him. Despite the initial discrimination he suffered, he stayed focused on using his special gifts to benefit others. Because it’s a children’s story, it had a happy ending. The Churkendoose’s efforts were rewarded by acceptance. In real life, that’s not always the case.

It may be that overcoming the differences that can be seen is easier than dealing with differences in perception that are not visible on the surface. In a story for older children, Aunt Beast, a character in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time represents creatures whose “sight” is not dependent on superficial appearances, but on the ability to discern the essence or substance of things beneath the surface.

“We do not know what things look like, as you say… we know what things are like. This must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.” (p. 181)

“We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.” (p. 186)

I was reminded of the significance of the ability to discern more deeply by a comment about Teaching – And the Wonder of Life in a Blade of Grass from someone I worked with in the past. Initially, the comment didn’t make any sense. I reluctantly decided not to approve it. After reflection, however, it seemed to be another perspective – one that conveyed the inability to see the wonder of life beneath the surface appearance of things. I am grateful for a culture and experiences that have privileged me with a different view, and for artists like Louie Schwartzberg  and scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson  whose work reminds us all of the beauty and mystery of life.

The observations and question I shared in my essay…

“Understanding one’s self and the ways in which one has been socialized to see the world are indispensable for understanding others in respectful, inclusive ways. Learning to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass is perhaps one of the most important things we can learn. If we can’t see the beauty and wonder of life in nature, how can we see it in each other?”

blade of grass

Photo Credit: 3quarksdaily – Tuesday Poem

The response from the critical commentator (as originally submitted) …

“I spent a long time thinking about the acute angle formed by the tip of a certain blade of grass. Perhaps the word “thinking” is not quite appropriate. That strange, trifling conception of mine was no continuing process, bet reappeared persistently, like some refrain. Why did the acute angle have to be so acute? If instead it were obtuse, would the classification “grass” be lost and would nature inevitably be destroyed from that one corner of its totality? When a single tiny cog is removed from nature, is not nature itself being entirely overthrown? Then my mind would aimlessly examine the problem from one point of view, or the other.”
Yukio Mishima ~ The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

This comment, based on the 1956 novel by Yukio Mishima, helps me understand why some people can destroy the earth or oppress others. Perhaps they can only see triangles where others see the wonder of life. Those who see the essence of things must be a powerful threat to those who can only ponder the surface of things. Yet, as deGrasse Tyson observes, we are not given clear guidelines for making sense of the universe.

“We awakened on this tiny world beneath a blanket of stars like an abandoned baby left on a doorstep without a note to explain where we came from, who we are, how our universe came to be. And with no idea how to end our cosmic isolation. We’ve had to figure it out for ourselves.” (deGrasse Tyson, 2014)

How we live and what we learn to love all depends on how we look at things.

Works cited:

Ben Ross Berenberg (1946). What am I? New York City, NY: Wonder Books.
Madeleine L’Engle (1962). A wrinkle in time. New York City, NY: Dell Publishing Company.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (2014). When knowledge conquered fear (Season 1, Episode 3). Cosmos: A Space Odyssey.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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