Wonder and creativity
I found myself standing beside a window one chilly morning recently as my thoughts wandered into wondering, as they often do.
This time, I was wondering — both wondering about and feeling a sense of wonder — at the early morning sunlight filtering through the window.
As I raised the shade to get a better look at the day, I immediately felt an odd sensation: a coldness radiating from the glass of the window simultaneously with a warmth from the sunlight striking my hand and arm.
I couldn’t help but think back to some basic science lessons from my childhood.
These rays of light from the sun, I reminded myself, have traveled 93 million miles through the forbidding vacuum of space, traversing the distance in minutes through emptiness at temperatures approaching absolute zero, leaving the blackness of space as dark as ever.
But as they reach earth, they excite the molecules in our atmosphere, lighting up and warming the planet and the air around us, right down to the shaft of light now shining on my fingers.
Just then, a wisp of cloud passed overhead, and the temperature suddenly dropped so that I could only feel the cold emanating from the window.
How far those powerful rays of light had traveled, I thought, only to be blocked by clouds a few hundred feet from me, as they also had been a few moments before by the window shade next to me.
Sometimes it takes very little to stymie something very powerful.
I experience a reverie of this sort fairly often. I enjoy them because they help me take a step back from a busy life and scattered brain and “smell the roses.”
It’s times like this that make me hum in my head a lyric from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song: “a hundred million miracles are happ’ning ev’ry day.”
I think having a sense of wonder at life, especially at some of our simplest, most common experiences, adds meaning to it.
It also boosts creativity, according to psychologists. In an article titled “Creativity and Wonder,” published in the Journal of Creative Behavior, Professor Vlad Petre Glăveanu wrote:
“The experience of wonder is often said to be at the origin of acts of creativity…
Understood as one of the main ways in which we engage with the possible, wonder presents us, upon closer inspection, with a paradox typical for creativity — experiencing what is present (the here and now) through the lenses of what is absent (the not-yet-here).”
What makes us humans so creative — indeed, impels us to acts of creation (art and invention) — is our capacity for wonder coupled with our capacity for understanding.
If we only wondered and never grasped answers, life would be only frustrating. But because we can think, speak and interact with others, and because our creative brains can comprehend many of the mysteries of the universe, we are driven to inch forward, generation after generation.
It’s true that, as we age, most of us find it increasingly difficult to recall things we once knew and to pick up new skills.
But recent research confirms that our brains are “plastic,” in a good sense. Neurons can continue to grow and establish connections, especially when we concentrate on something new and different for us, such as brain games, tai chi or a new language.
Sometimes lost in that conversation, however, is recognizing how — far from being lost — creativity remains and can even blossom with age.
While creative output may appear to decline in many of us as we age, psychologists believe that is probably because we fall into a rut. We’re deflected from things we feel passionate about due to our careers, family responsibilities and the like.
Even the strongest of passions can be blocked by mundane matters.
That may be why aging can be a time of resurging creativity. Freed from some of those matters, when older adults return to — or perhaps eventually discover — their true passions, they can be as creative and productive as when they were young.
Do you ever find yourself wondering why things are as they are, or (even better) what could be?
Have you considered taking an art or music class? Have you always wanted to make pottery or jewelry, learn to play an instrument, understand theoretical physics?
I think one of the best things we can do as we age is get in touch with our inner sense of wonder. Then, we should let it spark our creative spirit and lead us to do something we love, or find something new to love.
Wonder leads to creativity which can, if we’re fortunate, lead to a more passionate, meaningful and fulfilling life.