Volume 73, Number 52 | April 28 - May 4, 2004

Notebook


Look up in awe and soar; no Palm Pilot required

By Wickham Boyle

I just sent my daughter an e-mail promising her that a meteor shower that would rain down on us after midnight tonight, and I further admonished her to take time out from cramming and college papers to “look up in awe.”

It was the kind of missive mothers have been sending for centuries. Perhaps in the past peripatetic scholars would be reminded to attend church, go to the soothsayer or attend the oracle. But my major connection to a spiritual life in modern times lies within nature.

I am daunted daily by the news and undone by what is now being touted as “hyper-tasking.” That is the non-elegant art of doing many multiple tasks, as far as I can see, none of them satisfying. So when the opportunity comes along to gawk at nature, I scurry to cancel my too-busy life and I rush to awe.

I know this sounds like the greatest oxymoron, beyond jumbo shrimp, thundering silence or military intelligence — rushing to awe. It might well be the name of our time. As pundits struggle to name the decades, perhaps this will be the time not of the New Renaissance but the Rush to Awe. As a nation and a world we seem on the brink of explosion in a metaphoric and actual sense.

As I sit in the morning with my teenage son and listen to the litany of what he has to do, and what he so desperately wants in material accumulations from his life, I see that he is missing a sense of real awe. Not the admiration or ardor that come from seeing what the rap stars have. Not the idle American staring with drool and gusto at the “Cribs of the Rich and Famous” or the pimped-up rides of those saved from mediocrity. No, what is missing from modern life is real gut-walloping wonder.

I feel that when I lie on my back and watch stars falling, darting and careening across an inky-black sky. I feel it too when I stand in mountains, or at the brink of rushing falls, in the midst of a perfectly mown hayfield or in the middle of new snow. The raw, untasked energy in nature unlocks me from my task-based life in a way nothing else can.

I notice when it happens. I feel as if I am a plow horse unyoked. As the inspirational effects of nature wash over me, I begin to release my farm-animal self tethered to task, achievement, deadlines and investments. It fades away and I am left a shining Pegasus, winged with wonder.

I know that this feeling is ubiquitous. Why else would there be such a rush to national parks or even to local parks, where the harried rush to preen in emerald grass, breathing in an aroma they didn’t even know they missed? That is what is so scary about the modern, hyper-extended life; I fear we don’t even know how depleted we are until we begin to refill.

Until we begin to feel the deconstriciton of our muscles held tight by the pursuit of too much, we don’t sense how hooked we are. Until we have done nothing without an internal timer ringing, signaling that it is the moment to move on to more productive recreation, we don’t sense how unconnected we have become.

To feel cessation requires remarkable dedication, otherwise the principle of inertia carries us forward in its very stalwart grip. What I am seeking is the solace of cessation. And because I am too task driven a modern woman, I need an occurrence to motivate me to stop. So tonight the universe has conspired to offer my too-too-speedy compatriots and me a time to look up.

Rather than mark it in my Palm Pilot I am activating my imagination to stir me to walk outside and gaze towards the heavens and soak in the awe.

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