Wonder is that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle. It sees in the ordinary the extraordinary, and it finds in the extraordinary the reaffirmations for what it already knows. Wonder clasps the soul (the spiritual) and is felt in the body (the material). Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal. Wonder makes life’s enchantment real and knows when and where enchantment must lie. Wonder knows how to read the shadows because it knows the nature of light. Wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood but finds its key there. It is a journey like a walk through the woods, over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions, while the voice of direction leads, saying ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’ (Isaiah 30:21 KJV). It is not at all surprising that of the seventy usages of the word wonder in the Old testament, nearly half of them are by David, the sweet singer of Israel. Wonder and music go hand in hand. Wonder cannot help but sing. Even nature recognizes that.”
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a fascinating dialogue that happens after the company from Narnia voyage to an island at the beginning of the end of the world. The Narnians meet a star named Ramandu, who dwells on the island with his beautiful daughter.
When the company are told that Ramandu is “a retired star”, Edmund announces, “In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Ramandu replies: “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
That’s an important distinction. What a thing is made of is not always the same as what a thing actually is.
The Brain-Plasticity Revolution
I thought of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week when I came across an intriguing article by Dr. Michael Merzenich, one of the leading pioneers in the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity.
From Part 4 of my interview with Dr. Taylor on Brain Fitness:
“Without intellectual curiosity learning is boring. Without intellectual curiosity the justification for knowledge ultimately rests in pragmatic concerns outside the material itself, with the result that knowledge is reduced to a utilitarian tool. Intellectual curiosity saves us from the type of servile mind that sees knowledge as only useful for material gain. That’s why intellectual curiosity is freeing, dignifying and humanizing. Intellectual curiosity arises naturally from the best education, since the finest education is able in instill in us the sense that life is intensely interesting and worthwhile to study for its own sake.
But intellectual curiosity is also very practical since it is closely connected with memory. When knowledge ceases to be interesting for its own sake then we find it difficult to remember the content. The brain is very efficient so that when something is boring for us the brain gets the message ‘This isn’t worth remembering, I need to conserve my resources for stuff that is more interesting.’
We tend to think that a positive outlook results from external circumstances and forces that are outside of us. Though we might not actually express it so crudely, we intuitively assume that peace of mind results from getting what we want. While this may be partially true in some cases, it is more often the case that peace of mind results from the mindset we choose to adopt about our livesirrespective to what is happening around us.
Do you find the content on this blog helpful? Would you like to see an even more steady stream of original content, including monthly book reviews, bimonthly self-help videos, weekly answers to readers’ questions and a thought-of-the-day each morning? These are just some of the agenda-items I would like to pursue if this blog could become self-funding.
Which brings me to some exciting news! This blog is now equipped with a plugin that enables you to donate directly to this work. If you are excited about playing an active role in supporting this site’s content, now is your chance!
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Earlier this month, Carolyn Gregoire wrote a powerful article on intuition for the Huffington Post. Her article, ‘10 Things Highly Intuitive People Do Differently‘, showed that being able to have an accurate intuition is a skill we develop with practice, by engaging in right practices such as taking time to be creative, to be quiet, to mindfulness let go of negative emotions, and so forth. It reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blinkwhere he showed that there is a complex context of antecedents that precede a person’s ability to make accurate split second reactions based on intuition. One of the things I most appreciated about Gregoire’s piece was her emphasis that constant busyness and connection to digital connectivity can starve the ability to be intuitive. That is something I’ve found, as it is the times when I turn off all my devices to just be quiet that I achieve my best insights and connect best with the intuition God has given me. From Gregoire’s piece:
“Few things stifle intuition as easily as constant busyness, multitasking, connectivity to digital devices and stress and burnout. According to Huffington, we always have an intuitive sense about the people in our lives — on a deep level, we know the good ones from the ‘flatterers and dissemblers’ — but we’re not always awake enough to our intuition to acknowledge the difference to ourselves. The problem is that we’re simply too busy.”
In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, psychologist Howard Gardner expanded the notion of intelligence to include multiple different modalities. One of the most important of these is the category that many psychologists call emotional intelligence but which Gardner termed “Interpersonal Intelligence.”
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize our feelings as they occur and thus to increase the gap between stimulus and response. But emotional intelligence isn’t just about recognizing and managing our own emotions, because clinical studies have established that the same mental muscles involved in attentive perception of our own moods and feelings also form the basis of attentive perception of others people’s emotions and needs. So emotional intelligence is both self-directed and others-directed. And it’s so important practically. As I pointed out in my essays on attentiveness, a high level of emotional intelligence is absolutely necessary in order to have successful relationships, to self-regulate our emotions, and effectively to navigate the challenges of life. In fact, many researchers now believe that emotional intelligence is even more important than IQ. This was the thesis of Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman didn’t discover the concept of emotional intelligence, but he’s the one who popularized the concept and made it a household term. Thanks to the work of Goleman and others, it is now widely accepted that emotional intelligence plays a far greater role than we ever realized in all the things that matter most in life. In his book Search Inside Yourself, former Google-engineer-turned-mindfulness-guru, Chade-Meng Tan, showed that emotional intelligence even plays a central role in jobs that we might expect to only require good brain-processing power, such as the work of programmers, engineers and technicians.
Research is increasingly showing that emotional intelligence involves neurological skills that can be developed with practice, and so it is absolutely crucial that this skill be at the center of any discussion about brain fitness.