Last week I hiked in the woods for about an hour in the snow and wind. It was glorious and uncomfortable. Dressed for the weather, though perhaps not quite as many layers as needed, I was bundled nonetheless: hiking boots, headband, winter gloves. Snow landed on my face, immediately melting into Mother Natures tears on my face. The twists and turns of the soft earthed path brought me into the tall forest protectively circling the pond. A white tail bounced ahead of me, and up the hill. It never gets old, the elegant movement through brush, over logs, the leaps that seem to stop in mid-air. I watched until I no longer could see her, and continued my hike. A few moments passed, I looked back up to the ridge and there encountered eyes watching me with curiosity. I stop, and allowed our eyes to meet again, waiting, honoring wonder. She bounded off and soon disappeared into the trees and softly falling mix of snow and leaves. Trees nearly bare of leaves, continued to shed the remaining foliage assisted by the winds. Under the canopy there were pockets of calm beneath the sway of the trees above. The ground was covered in shades of yellow, tan and orange. Death can be breathtaking. And it seemed as if the entire forest was honoring this threshhold of pre-dawn autumn. Feeling eyes hold me, I looked up the hill, to find that yet again, she stood. She watched. We waited. I am not sure who started the belief that animals have no soul, I think they were mistaken. To stand in this place, to connect in curiosity and wonder is sacred. We met each other and for a few seconds, time seem to stop.
Curiosity and wonder are spiritual practices. We often experience our culture pressing us to choose sides: who or what is right or wrong. And while there are often things we may want to judge in that way, there are many more times where judgment can be released, and we can sit in a place of curiosity and wonder. Parker Palmer, author and poet, reminds us “When the going gets rough, turn to wonder.” What he means by this is when we feel pressured by society, our families or friends to judge a person or situation, we can choose to move into curiosity, “I wonder why he said…” “I wonder why she did…” It moves us from a place of deciding meaning and motive to a place where we are open to understanding the other person.
When we make this shift, we are lowering our level of stress. We are in a more calm, thoughtful place in our brain. It is as if we have taken a deep emotional breath. Our body relaxes and we move from the reactive part of our brain, (affectionately called “the lizard brain”) to our thinking brain (our Pre-Frontal Cortex) where we can be responsive rather than reactive.
When I watched the ridge deer, I could see when she moved from curiosity to judgment. She watched me, eye to eye, the gaze held, then it broke and she ran. Instinct told her to run, curiosity and wonder allowed her to stay, if only for a few moments.
Instincts are important to pay attention to, however they are not the entire story of what we have available to us. This week, when you are faced with an opportunity to fight, fly or freeze, (the work of the lizard brain) consider opening yourself up to wonder and curiousity. Stop, look around you and listen to what is happening. Be curious. Turn to wonder. You may find yourself face to face with an unexpected sacred moment.