I’ve written before about being Jewish and why I love Christmas. This past Saturday, when I went to yoga for the first time in awhile, I heard something from the teacher’s dharma talk that gave me new insight into the ‘Secret Sauce’ that makes the holiday season so special.
This may seem obvious, but stay with me. The Secret Sauce is wonder. Yes, wonder!
Obvious in some ways: Kids remind us of the bright-eyed innocence we once possessed, the lights and sights (New York City at Christmastime, a snow covered field) and the glitter and majesty of gifts, parties, and religious rites. But it’s more than that. Wonder is a state of full presence. It’s a state of connection to our greatest capacity for love and compassion.
As Jesse Prinz, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, said, we might feel a physical sensation like the swelling of our heart when we are in a state of wonder. Cognitively, we cannot connect what we are experiencing to something we already know or it wouldn’t be wonder. Even if we’ve seen something before, if we feel wonder, we are seeing it in a new way or as if we were seeing it for the first time. We might even gasp and utter the word “Wow!” as we process what we see and feel.
The heightened expectation, even in the face of an event we anticipate annually, puts us in a state of wonder. For there to be wonder, there must be a lack of certainty. We can’t be ‘in’ wonder if we know what is going to happen.
It’s like my yoga class itself. I go to class with a reasonable expectation of what will transpire. We’ll sit on our mats, wait for the teacher to begin, spend some time centering and reflecting, warm up our bodies, then move in to increasingly difficult movements until we hit a high point and start slowing down. Finally, we get to stretch and then lie down in savasana (dead man’s pose—my favorite —who doesn’t love lying down to nap while exercising!?) I know what’s going to happen. But I don’t really .
I have to be fully in the present to be in the poses. The endorphins kick in as the work gets harder. Fully present to breath and movement, and soon, I’m in wonder. Wonder at the simplicity that is also difficult and the collective breath that moves the whole room to a place of greeting the divine within us and each other (although late comers to class asking me to move my mat so they can find a place pisses me the hell off—divine evolution is clearly a work in progress!)
Consider this, if you will. We do this thing called the holidays every year. We basically know what to expect and yet it induces wonder. We must surrender a lot of ‘reality’ to feel the magic.
This can also be a sad time of year for so many. If the ‘secret sauce’ is wonder and not dependent on family (which most people complain about anyway!), can we create that magic for ourselves? How do we take a melancholy time and turn it into wonder? As I said, it requires surrendering reality and getting in touch with the love, the discovery, the newness of right now whether it’s fully desirable or not. It’s not easy but it is in our sphere of influence.
As we enter the final days of this year, consider how you could launch in to 2016 with wonder and do things differently than you’ve ever done before? How might you change things up to allow a state of wonder to guide you?
Ponder that with a hot chocolate or hot toddy. I’ll see you on the other side of the holiday season.