It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

“The thing about awe…is that it works. It helps you transcend the dreary, draining elements of everyday life and see something bigger. And in the presence of something bigger, you get quite small…”

Kelly Corrigan

I’m reading a fascinating book by Trevor Hudson called Seeking God. The subtitle is weighty: Finding Another Kind of Live with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard, and while that might be daunting to some, it’s incredibly appealing to me. Keeping company with those two would be another kind of life, indeed.

Subdivided into specific areas of focus to help those who desire “a different kind of life than you presently have,” the book is so tangibly helpful that I’m hoping to have some folks join me next month in reading and discussion. I envision some lively conversation.

The thing that has gripped me most powerfully thus far is one simple sentence: It doesn’t have to be this way. Hudson goes on to say:

“The worst thing that has happened does not have to be the last thing. Just because things get broken, they don’t have to stay that way. Something beautiful, something good, can be born. Life can become wonderfully different. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Trevor Hudson, Seeking God

It doesn’t have to be this way. I am holding these words loosely, carried with me over the last few days, reckoning with the implications of a slight shift in perspective. I’m well-equipped with many a cliché: All’s well that ends well. Time heals all wounds. It’s just a season. All things work together for good. You won’t feel this way tomorrow. It’ll get better. There’s a good bit of truth in most of those statements.

But ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’ – this feels more optimistic, implying choice, inclined toward hope.

I look up from this statement into possibilities, and an imperative that feels like an invitation: What might could change about this? And by the way – this is not to say that anything is particularly difficult or challenging about my current life circumstances; it’s just life, which is at times glorious and other times mundane. I can find something to whine about every day.

But, as often happens, dots began to connect as I listened to a short talk on Kelly Corrigan’s For the Good of the Order podcast. It was a “Mental Health Check on the Power of Wonder,” and it included, among other things, the power of doing puzzles to help create awe.

Stay with me.

Corrigan talks about ‘micro moments of awe’ – like slowing down long enough to recognize that three or four puzzle pieces, snapped into place, can feel like an accomplishment. And that an image taking form – one that required patience, and seeking, and contemplation of color and shape and details – brings immense satisfaction. Or going on a walk, training your eye to be wowed by something: flowers, plants, leaves, trees, the sky.

Throughout, she is moving towards the joy of becoming “a person who can slip into states of wonder more easily.”

I sent the episode to a good friend who had shared recently the challenges of being hyper-critical when it comes to himself. He identifies it as his greatest weakness, and is beginning to find practices that help replace the critical voice with one of kindness. Corrigan refers to a book by psychologist Dachar Keltner, who writes, “awe seems to quiet self-talk” – that critical voice in our head – as an actual neurological occurance.

My friend went out and bought a puzzle.

I sent the podcast link to my son, who is working on a puzzle of the Pacific Coast that I gave him for Christmas. He sent back a photo of his progress:

I love this arrow, pointing toward the simple act of being present to something that might provoke awe as an act of healing. A spiritual practice.

An intentional walk toward what might could change.

Whatever is in your life right now that is uncomfortable, wrong, distasteful, ill-fitting: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Go forth and seek awe. And do a puzzle.


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