It was at the top of Haleakala on Maui, watching the most incredible sunset in my life at 10,020 feet, that my wife leaned over and said, "Now this is cultivating awe and wonder!" You might have heard this phrase before, a practice of mindfulness that is intended to strengthen individual resilience. I don't know who coined it for our modern times, but it is certainly an ancient concept.
As a physician, you may find yourself practicing medicine in a way that grinds the joy out of you, whether it is in a private clinic or in a hospital. With so many administrative burdens that "get in the way" of seeing patients, it can be easy to lose sight of all the amazing things that happen in our world. Cultivating awe and wonder on a regular basis can help restore and retain a sense of humility and gratitude for the short lives we live and the people we interact with. Here's a few sources you might consider:
Nature/Creation – This one is intuitive since most people I know love to get out of their urban environment to reconnect with the natural world. For me, sitting and looking at the moonlike Haleakala crater – which is 5-6 miles wide and rich with green, brown, gray and red tones – was simply astonishing. Watching last fall's total solar eclipse in Cascade (and my family's reaction to it) made me understand the "umbra-chasers." And it's still hard for me to fathom the rivers of lava and car-size boulders flowing on Hawaii's big island right now, right through a lush green neighborhood my wife and I got turned around in by GPS just eighteen months ago. But Hawaii and solar totality don't happen every day, so we need to settle for smaller joys even if it is just biking the Greenbelt, hiking the foothills or stopping to smell the flowers.
The Human Body – You all have much more of a front row seat to this than I do and get to see extraordinary things like hearts pumping blood, and cellular activity, and even a crying newborn fresh out of the womb. Perhaps you see it too frequently to appreciate it, but I am constantly amazed at things like my own body's ability to heal itself with clotting and scabs. I remember the tiny fingers of my children when they were babies. And even as I age, there is definitely a sense of wonder about the different kinds of hair emerging from various places on my head.
Giving Gifts – It is Christmas morning and you sit in the dark waiting for your kids to walk their sleepy selves into the living room. As you sip your coffee and they suddenly recognize the smorgasbord of gifts you've prepared, you get to watch the wonder in their eyes and appreciate their gratitude. Indeed, a well thought out gift or even a well-timed word of encouragement brings its own reward when it lands just right in the heart of the recipient. Random acts of kindness like paying for somebody's dinner anonymously allows you to snicker and grin as you think what their reaction is going to be when they find out.
Children – Sure, it may be a little irritating if your own 3 or 4-year-old won't stop asking "why" questions, but we could all stand to regain our sense of childlike curiosity. I suppose learning the scientific method can have the effect of reducing our big questions to a dull academic pursuit of more knowledge. So, if you've lost your sense of wonder in the world, it is easy to reawaken it by being around kids who are just opening their eyes to how big it is and how much they don't know. But it can also be something like seeing yourself in their features or seeing your sense of humor reflected in their punishing attempts at wordplay.
I'm wondering: what kind of things do you do to cultivate this sense of awe?