Cultivating Wonder

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver Aquarium

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver Aquarium with my husband, my parents, and my sister. Although we’ve lived in the Greater Vancouver area for seven and a half years, I’d only been to the Aquarium twice before this. That’s too bad, because, in my opinion, it is a local treasure. Many people are opponents of the facility, claiming that it is unfair to many of these animals to have them “imprisoned,” but so many of the larger sea creatures at the Aquarium  A Pacific White Sided dolphin jumps out of the water at the Vancouver Aquariumare rescues who would have perished on their own in the wild. Furthermore, the important research done at the Aquarium (it is a non-profit organization) helps us learn more about how to protect the wild cousins of the Aquarium’s residents.

But that’s enough apologetics for the Vancouver Aquarium. What I found there wasn’t just a large collection of interesting sea creatures. I also encountered my sense of wonder.

We live in a culture that is really good at destroying wonder, especially in adults. The mundane practicalities of life push aside our wonder. Stress strangles it. Pain and grief smother it. Worse, I think that some of us are taught—directly or indirectly—that wonder is something reserved for children, and that adults have matured beyond it.

For me, depression dealt a heavy blow to my sense of wonder. Things that would normally have brought me joy simply by existing were no longer able to raise that emotion in me. As I have been recovering from depression, I have also been recovering my sense of wonder.

So I enjoyed the Aquarium more than I had on my two previous visits (granted, for one of those visits I was battling the pain of a dry socket after a wisdom tooth extraction). This was helped along by the fact that we were selected by one of the A photo of one of the jellyfish tanks at the Vancouver AquariumAquarium volunteers to be taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the jellyfish lab!  I was so thankful that I am now in a place emotionally where I could really enjoy seeing the unusual beauty of the jellyfish and not feeling awkward about being singled out (depression sucks, literally).

As I’ve been reflecting on the visit, it has occurred to me that there is something special about the way that animals provoke our sense of wonder. This is especially true for me. I love stopping to watch birds or animals in our neighbourhood. It helps that I live somewhere in the world where it isn’t unusual to see a bald eagle flying around in the city. But as I was watching the dolphins and sea lions and porpoises and beluga whales, I was able to tap into that sense of wonder at their beauty, grace, and intelligence. The jellyfish are strange and otherworldly, delicate and deadly. The electric eel held my attention for a surprising amount of time.

I think it is important to cultivate wonder in our lives. Spending time with children no doubt helps facilitate the process. Ideally, a child still has their sense of wonder intact, and very young children spend time wondering at things we have long learned to take for granted. But even if there are no children in your lives, it’s possible to pull your sense of wonder out of the closet in your mind and give it some air. Spend some time looking—and I mean really looking—at flowers or newly formed leaves or a squirrel as it runs or anything else that tweaks your sense of wonder.

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver AquariumListen to birds singing. Find a mountain and really think about how big it is. Stare up at the stars and remember how far away they are.

Isn’t this universe wonderful?

What provokes your sense of wonder?