Your Super Power
For the past two weeks my class has read about and discussed the topic of, “Listening to Creation.” We are using Adam McHugh’s book The Listening Life as well as a couple of fabulous articles. Since it is the end of February in Michigan, I would expect this section of class to be wrapped in snow and wind. But as we turned the pages in the book, the weather shifted and we saw a glimpse of spring. We spent 3 of our classes outside-one admittedly in a cool and light rain. We silently observed nature close by and then travelled to a nearby county park to explore nature trails. We keyed in our principles of observation. We honed in our senses by silencing our voices and as much of our busy minds as possible. We walked. We looked. We were amazed.
Adam McHugh talks about the notion of anxiety as a condition of scarcity-we who are anxious or stressed are living in a state of perceived lack. Lack of time, lack of the new material things, lack of sleep…the list goes on. He believes one way to combat this state is to spend time in a space of abundance-like nature. By immersing ourselves in the beauty of creation we surround ourselves with the artist’s canvas dripping with wonder. Mary Oliver echoes this sentiment in her poem from A Thousand Mornings:
Foolishness? No, it’s not
Sometimes I spend all day trying to count
the leaves on a single tree. To do this I
have to climb branch by branch and
write down the numbers in a little book.
So I suppose, from their point of view,
it’s reasonable that my friends say: what
foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds
But it’s not. Of course I have to give up,
but by then I’m half crazy with the wonder
of it-the abundance of the leaves, the
quietness of the branches, the hopelessness
of my effort. And I’m in that delicious
and important place, roaring with laughter,
full of earth praise.
I often wonder how it is that I notice so much beauty while I am walking in the woods. Tiny flecks catch my eye that ordinarily would slip past without a glance. A stone shaped like a heart, a dainty purple wildflower, an iridescent bug, a patch of glitter. In the woods beauty does not only appear to my eyes, my nose inhales the scent of pine warmed by the morning sun, or the earthy smell of the dirt mixed with leaves moist from a recent melt. My ears pick up the songs of birds that cause me to look up to find the musician perched high above. Sometimes my hand reaches out to caress a petal, a patch of moss like velvet, or the roughness of a tree trunk. All of these things beautiful, and all of them savored while walking in the woods. Do I notice because I am present, only focusing on moving my favorite hiking boots with the red laces along the path? I am not distracted by chores, emails, or the wants that can arise from endless scrolling through the next best thing. Do I notice because the pace of the world slows in the woods? It is not frantic or rushed. My mind clears as my breathing deepens. Do I notice because my body craves curiosity and adventure-breaking from the carefully planned schedules full of colored blocks and reminder chimes? When I wander the path I seek, I wonder, I notice.
In her fascinating article for the NYT Sunday Review, How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity, Pagan Kennedy discusses the origin of the word serendipity as something people do, discoveries being made that were not being searched for. Read the article-it tells a beautiful story of a man who lived in 1754 and was entranced by a Persian Fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who, “possess super powers of observation.” The article goes on to discuss research that was done by Dr. Sanda Erdelez from the University of Missouri, that shows "people fall in to three groups, “non-encounterers”; they saw through a tight focus, a kind of chink hole, and they tended to stick to their to-do lists when searching for information rather than wandering off into the margins. Other people were “occasional encounterers,” who stumbled into moments of serendipity now and then. Most interesting were the “super-encounterers,” who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked.” Finally, Dr. Erdelez says, “You become a super-encounterer in part because you believe that you are one — it helps to assume that you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues.”
So what if we embraced the notion of being a ‘super-encounterer’ this week? What if we believed that we had super powers that enabled us to notice beauty in the ordinary? What if we seek out spaces of abundance, likely in nature, that will combat the stresses caused by our busy lives. We don’t have to go far, that was part of the conversation with my students-by simply walking outside to a highly traveled path on campus we could use these super powers to really look, to observe, to listen, to see. Our guest speaker this week wisely told us that the outdoor gear industry in our country has conditioned us to think that to ‘do nature’ we need expensive gear and to travel a great distance. And, admittedly, that is a wonderful thing to do-we can talk about my adventure of climbing Mt. Fuji last summer another time, but nature truly surrounds us, close by, we just need to slow down, breath deep, and allow ourselves to see.
(For more information on how nature makes us better, I highly recommend the book The Nature Fix. )