Calm wonder

A few weeks back, I received an eloquent holiday letter from a friend who has faced some hard times in recent years but has steadily been moving forward into a vibrant and fulfilling new life. Along with recounting the year’s highlights—foreign travel, news of her kids—she spoke of her theme for the year ahead: Durable calm.

Over the next few days, I found my mind returning to these words—and mulling over how I’d describe the spirit in which I’d like to move through my own 2012.

“Calm” felt right. It’s not a quality that comes naturally to me—I tend towards the frantic and anxious—but it’s one that I’ve come to value more with each passing year.  I tried it out this week and noticed that even repeating the word in my mind seems to help ground me.

“Wonder” is another word that captured my imagination.  The idea of greeting the world with curiosity rather than with judgment. Of being interested in things as they are and less wrapped up in my ideas of how I think they ought to be. This certainly isn’t to say that opinions don’t have their place, just that I think that my life would richer if I carried them a bit more lightly.

In recent days, I’ve tried invoking the words—calm wonder–when I’m feeling uncertain or lost, and I’ve been struck by their capacity to remind me of what I care about most. Real meaning won’t be found in robotically checking off the next item on my to-do list but rather in taking time to experience life in all its confusion and beauty.

Calm wonder isn’t a goal in itself—a sort of New Year’s resolution. Rather it’s a container, the spirit with which I’d like to infuse everything I do. It’s also a sort of touchstone: When I’m stressed out and on the move, invoking the words orients me. It invites me to return.

I’m starting 2012 in a very different place from where I started 2011, and for that I am mostly grateful. I love my friends and the place I live. I love writing this blog. For the first time in more than two years, I’m reeling in more paying work than I can easily handle.

Which is all the more reason to be clear on my intention to cultivate calm wonder: to focus not so much on getting things done but on the doing of them.