Be Astonished

“Instructions for Living a Life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
—Mary Oliver


This simple poem captures so much for me about how I want to live. I don’t know about you, but as much as I work to practice mindfulness and gratitude on a daily basis, I still too often get swept away in my worries and responsibilities. Chunks of time can go by where my body is doing one thing and my mind is somewhere else. Too many experiences are not fully integrated from a place of humility and wonder and awe that is inside me.

What I am especially wrestling with is the concept of being astonished by everything life has to offer, because the glorious and the painful all have their own beauty. My tendency can be to let the glorious register for only a moment (Wow, that was nice.) And to push away just as quickly the painful (That’s not pleasant and I don’t want to feel it.)

The fact is that none of us are exempt from life’s entire kaleidoscope of experiences. We will love and grieve, for it is impossible to have one without the other. We will go through times of victory and joy, and times of despair and defeat. We all face the same reality that life is, at it’s core, both a befuddling mystery and a magnificent miracle. The things that bring us to our knees will include bliss and devastation. I want to be amazed by all of it.

To be astonished by everything requires me to pay close attention. I am convinced that astonishment is the gateway to the development of our full humanity. Some things I have been amazed by today:

  • The creativity of my classmates in my current writing class “Writing as Mindfulness.”
  • How wonderful I feel to have had a great night’s sleep.
  • How beautiful the glorious colors of autumn are right now.
  • How discouraged and helpless I feel about the current political landscape and polarization of the two parties.
  • How our 14 year old cat has had a personality change in the last year—instead of hiding from us, she has become a lap cat!
  • How grateful I am to have the quiet reading room at the library all to myself.
  • The courage and commitment I am honored to bear witness to in my client’s every day.

The epic art of becoming a whole human being involves profound astonishment. Let Mary Oliver’s words be a kind of mantra for us today, and every day.

Linda Glass, M.A.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor