Updated: Jan 1, 2022
“When suffering constricts the heart, awe stretches it back out, making us more compassionate, more loving, more present.”
~ from See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valerie Kaur.
I believe this to be true. These days I go searching for awe wherever I am and in whatever I do. It's not always easy until I realize I’m in control of how high or low to set the bar. Lately, I have found awe in the way the lights on our Christmas tree reflect on the window making it appear that the outside forest is lit up; the way our cat and dog curl peacefully on the rug, like a parenthesis; how their breath pairs, bellies lifting and dipping in unison; how the loon at the beach follows me as I walk back and forth counting my steps; how the sunset in the harbor casts a pink glow on the shallows where I search for heart rocks; how I always find one, a heart rock, no matter how small.
The other day I walked for an hour with no heart rocks in view. I decided it was time to let it go for today, to just be. So, I sat on a ledge, closed my eyes, and let the sound of the outgoing tide and the cry of a gull become my momentary purpose, telling myself, yes, more of this, yes. When I opened my eyes, I looked down and... Voila!
(Photo: Jodi Paloni)
I'm curious. What are you doing to take care of your tender and tenacious hearts in times of deeply personal and widely global hardships, your feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair? How do you find respite? Where do you create a niche of relief? Might collecting awe-inspired moments serve solace and also serve your creative process?
On a literary note, writer and revered writing teacher, Pam Houston, talks about how jotting down inspiring self-contained moments, what she calls “glimmers” or “mini-themes,” and how linking random “glimmers” (making associative leaps) inspires her drafts. Here’s an excerpt from an interview she gave at The Harberdasher, followed by some links to learn more.
JH: How do you stay inspired to write?
PH: By going out in the physical world (often the natural world) and really paying attention. All of my work comes from my experience in the physical world…. The real world, you might say, though I intentionally don’t. I move through the world and I wait until something “glimmers” at me, until something says, “Hey writer, over here, pay attention.” It can be a seal’s head popping up in an ocean wave, or the color the bark of the Aspens turn just before they leaf out, or a snippet of conversation overheard at a coffee shop or a piece of graffiti on an underpass…. Just about anything, but some of those glimmers feel like they have resonance. It feels as though this thing in the outside world is somehow going to help me unlock some story I have to tell. I don’t think too much about the how of that. I just trust that it will happen, and often, when I actually sit down to write and gather all the recent glimmers around me, a story does in fact emerge.
Here's the whole interview.
And here is an interview in which Pam gives a reading from her book, Contents May Have Shifted, and talks about how she puts together a project. I love what she says about poetry.
And speaking of glimmers, there promises to be some fabulous star-gazing out there all month!
~ Begin an ongoing list of awe-inspiring moments as you meet with them. Keep a notebook by your bed, or in your car, or keep one in both places. Post it on the refrigerator to make it more present and/or to share it with family. This can help to keep awe front and center, keep the momentum of a group collection going.
~ Go on a scavenger hunt in search of “a bundle of awe” by foot or by car. See if you can find at least 8 awe-inspired moments. I like the number 8 as it reminds me of the infinity symbol. Jot down your account of it in your notebook or make a sketch to replicate the moment.
~ Take an awe-inspired moment or a pair or a triplet of moments and write about it. Let the moment lead you down the path of writing sensory details, telling a story, connecting awe to a memory of similar awe from your past. If you write fiction, use the moment to spark a story. As what if? And, what if?
~ Cut or create paper pieces, one to represent each of these moments or glimmers, and create a collage. Pam Houston says that, in some ways, as a writer, she is also “a collagist” in the way she puts together pieces to create a whole.
~ If going out and searching for moments of awe doesn’t appeal to you, how about going out and letting one come to you. Or, how about leaving something that could become a glimmer for someone else?
(Photo: Jodi Paloni)
Enjoy! I'll be back when the moon is next full.
~ Jodi xo