Like many people, I struggle with the pressure to Do Something Important.
That’s what we’re taught life is all about, right? Help People. Make A Difference. Create Something that’s brilliant and unique and effortlessly relatable, that will spark like a flint against someone’s soul. And it feels awesome to create things, to be in the flow of the universe, your creativity, the people around you.
But those moments of effortless flow are rare—at least for me. Trying to Do Something Important usually means agonizing over a blank Word document or refreshing Instagram over and over—wondering why I spend my hours on this earth this way, wondering if I’ll get enough likes on my most recent photo, wondering how strangers on the internet have somehow made their Instagram feeds into Something Important—and how they make it look so easy.
We’re told to Do Something. We’re told to Make Something. We’re told to Change the World.
But what about watching the world? What about enjoying it?
When everyone is scrambling to Make Make Make, Do Do Do, who is going to appreciate the fruit of all that labor?
I believe there is infinite beauty in watching the universe, in releasing our tight grip on the ego’s voice that says we need to be Remembered Forever, and actually see the wonder in the world around us.
There is so much to see!
The puff of a bird’s chest before flight.
The novelty of the same face passing across generations of one family.
The smell of ground coffee and the stains of grease on a brown bag of pastries.
The author John Green finds words for this feeling in his novel The Fault in Our Stars: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed,” he writes. “I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.” Like John Green, I believe that the act of noticing is undervalued.
Maybe the universe doesn’t need seven billion people trying desperately to change it. We think it is heroic to create change—and it certainly can be—but there are so many kinds of change. And crucially, change is not always a change for the better. John Green describes this eloquently too. In the same novel, he points out that, “The marks humans leave are too often scars.”
I hope not to live in fear. Not to allow the risks of making change stop me from a moment of courage, not to allow the fear of being forgotten to spur me to cause harm. There is heroism in changing the world, and there is also heroism in seeing it.
Recently, I read the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert—and was totally uplifted by her message, to say the least. (I actually became a little obsessed with it, proselytizing about it to anyone who would listen.) In the book, Gilbert writes about living a creative life, one guided by inspiration and not desperation for recognition.
Living creatively, Gilbert asserts, does not mean you must take the conventional approach of Following Your Passion. “Passion,” she writes, “can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times-a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are specially touched by God.” I have certainly felt that. I have moments of passion—moments when I am overcome with my love of writing, of art, of running, moments when I’m transported into this supernatural state of flow and delight. But that’s definitely not the norm.
In a blog post on the same topic, Gilbert writes, “Passion is rare; curiosity is everyday. Curiosity is therefore a lot easier to reach at times than full-on passion — and the stakes are lower, easier to manage.”
Curiosity is the common thread here. Not that curiosity is much easier to define, but it’s at least less intimidating. I like to think of it as approaching the world with openness and love, as delighting in the present and the world around you.
That curiosity could lead you down a path of inspiration. It could lead you to write your book or take up dancing or go on that big hike. Or it could not. It could merely fill your heart for an hour, embed you more fully in the universe for that time. Either way, it is a good practice, a practice that nourishes your soul.
I feel much like Gilbert when she says, “my soul desires only one thing: wonder.” She finds this wonder through creativity. I certainly find it there, but I also seek wonder in small moments of curiosity, quiet observations of the rustles in the trees, the expansiveness of the stars. The universe is begging to be noticed, and it rewards that noticing with wonder.
I hope to live my life in wonder. In practice, that may mean Creating Change. It may not. It may mean Doing Something Important. Or not. As long as I live with curiosity and compassion, as long as I delight in the wonder the universe has arranged for us, I hope I will be happy.
It is a miracle to live on this earth. It is a miracle for the sun to rise and the rays to warm our skin. It is a miracle to take a hike, to ride an elevator, to see a school of minnows swimming in a pond. The blisters that turn to calluses on our feet, the sunburns that screams red and peel off to reveal heartier skin underneath, the sudden rush of loneliness from looking up at the stars—that is a miracle too.
The deep overwhelming gratitude I know I should feel—we should probably all feel—that can be hard to grasp. It can slip away in the haze of storm clouds, the pain of heartbreak, from the itch of a mosquito bite. But the gratitude for the moment—that is a much clearer intention. What’s even better? It doesn’t require an existential euphoria or a crystallized moment of understanding.
It’s borne on the wings of curiosity and—if we’re lucky—wonder.
Written by: Abby Schulman
Abby is a writer, a Ravenclaw, a runner, and a seeker of wonder. You can connect with her on Instagram: