How to let Life wow you
You can’t fake awe. But you can cultivate awareness.
Lying on the sofa with the warm laptop on my stomach, I notice the migraine I woke up with is still here, as happens every time I come back to the Netherlands. Being catapulted from one environment straight into another without having the time to catch my breath always throws me for a loop.
Technically, my door-to-door journey is around 5 hours and I had an extra three waiting for the train as I got to the station early. But I worked throughout bar for a 20 minute night between the time the train pulled out of the station and the train manager appeared for a ticket check. And I dragged a defective suitcase for miles, which today accounts for sore muscles in addition to exhaustion.
Taken out of context, the above is nothing but the unremarkable minutiae of a semi-ordinary travel day. To me, it’s yet another miracle among the many that preceded it to date; my being here, on this sofa in North Holland isn’t something I expected to happen.
Neither is the reason my entire body is a tableau of pain, something I cannot help but relish, not because I enjoy pain but because of what it means. But for my suitcase’s mechanical malfunction, I took this monster along for the trip because I’m moving to the Netherlands.
After spending a year living out of a suitcase, I will begin 2020 with set geographical coordinates and I’m still in disbelief. To preserve this all-encompassing sense of awe, I can’t allow temporary discomfort to distract me from it and pull me down the rabbit hole.
Even though exhaustion is crushing and has been threatening me with impending burnout for months, awe is the perfect antidote. It doesn’t make me any less tired and achy but it reminds me that feeling the way I do is a measure of how far I’ve come in 2019.
Against all odds.
This last year has been an intensive course in mastering serenity and acceptance while focusing on the essential, i.e. staying alive. And if a stage 4 cancer patient can do it with poise and grace, so can a suicidal chronic depressive in decent physical health like me. This, in a nutshell, is how I learned about the power of love from my parents and also from those who have been holding my hand for a year.
After spending five years left to my own devices during incapacitating depression, love came as a shock. Even more so when I started noticing that it is quite the self-perpetuating force; the more you put out, the more it multiplies.
Even then, it frequently feels like a slap in the face jolting me out of self-limiting thinking patterns that posit life is both burden and torture. This, after all, is how depression reframed the greatest adventure of all until it convinced me I’d be better off dead.
Acknowledging that life is replete with endless possibilities consonant with the limits of my imagination is still a mental stretch. And yet, this always used to be my default take until depression struck and convinced me otherwise.
For the last year, I’ve been trying to realign reality and my perception of it, which is why tangible proof of change like sore muscles isn’t unwelcome. I also look at people around me and exclaim “Lucky me!” with boundless enthusiasm at regular intervals, the act of vocalizing my delight a surefire way to conjure up instant awe.
No matter how distressing our circumstances, there’s always something to be in awe of if only we have the curiosity and the patience to tease it out. That moment when we choose to see the big picture instead of focusing on one tiny detail can be a helpful way to lessen the distress.
By reframing the situation, we become aware of data we had previously overlooked; importance is attention. The more attention you devote to something, the more it matters; if something distresses you, focus on something that brings you solace.
It sounds simplistic but it works, as anyone who shares their life with children or pets will attest as they force us to teleport into the moment. When we interact with them, we tend to forget everything else because they demand we fully inhabiting the present. And accept their unconditional and devoted love just because we happen to be here together now.
No kids or pets? Look around until you find one tiny joyful thing, that symbolizes growth, progress, change, or simply comfort. Maybe you’re reading this because you’re curious about how to go through life with greater ease. Maybe you’ve decided to take charge instead of letting life happen and you wonder how to inject a little extra oomph into every day.
Taking stock of how far you’ve come is always a good start, even if all you come up with is that you’ve managed to keep yourself alive this long. We take survival for granted even though it’s anything but self-evident for many of us; instead of celebrating every day, we give in to frustration.
We aren’t where we want to be yet, we’re lacking this or that, we’re broke, we’re tired… We let all that isn’t and all that we lack blind us and we become unable to see how fortunate we are and appreciate what we already have. There’s nothing quite like the encroaching presence of death to remind us that life itself is a quite a gift, one that is also regrettably finite.
What if we committed to making the most of every day by actively looking for joy and cherishing every tiny nugget we find? Life can and will wow you but only if you allow it to instead of going through life like a zombie in thrall to innumerable wants and endless discontent.
Open your eyes and see how dust motes dance in a ray of light; awe is a mindset that can carry you through the toughest challenges with grace.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.