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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do You Have Wonder Deficit Disorder?

Definition: Wonder Deficit Disorder is an acute inability to apprehend the wonderful, sublime, beautiful, or transcendent in any part of experiencing life because of chronic loss, disappointment, acute boredom, bitterness or despair. The person suffering with WDD no longer is sensitive to or looks for the wondrous in the magnificent, or the ordinary. They have narrowed their gaze to accept the mundane, the routine, the predictable, or maudlin as all of reality we can experience.

Who experiences Wonder Deficit Disorder?

  • Men and women, but more prevalent in men.
  • More prevalent in middle-aged to older adults, but can be experienced by children of abuse or profound neglect.
  • Men or women who suffered shattered expectations repeatedly for at least one year.
  • Children who were taught their bent for wonder, creative expression, and delight was foolishness to be discarded.
  • Children who were never allowed to be children, but made to shoulder responsibilities as, or for adults.
  • Hurried children or children who grew up in a household trapped in fear.
  • Men or women who've suffered life-threatening trauma altering their sense of power or freedom or safety.
  1. Uncharacteristic (for the person) attitude for, and focus on the practical, efficient, realistic or functional, but without energy.
  2. Loss of the sense in the potential of the extraordinary surfacing; jadedness, sarcasm.
  3. Diminished ability to laugh easily, be surprised or playful, feel joy, appreciate the fantastic  behind creation and life.
  4. Diminished sensitivity to feel truly alive or passionate. physically, intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, relationally or spiritually.
  5. Muted ability to create or respond creatively to inspiration.
  6. Loss of ability to dream, fantasize toward the enchanting, the lovely, the whimsical or delightful. 
  7. Maladaptive attempts to heighten sensitivity through drugs, alcohol, elevated risk-taking, binging on sex or food, etc.
  8. Diminished ability to be fascinated by or notice the ineffable all around.
  9. Little or no response to grandeur or the astounding. 
  10. Robotically living an experience of unexamined distraction, hurry and task management. 
For many if not most people, wonder is slowly unlearned and set aside. If people give less and less time to:

  • noticing, lifting their heads and looking around (and closely to actually see) the bounty of colors, shapes, textures, lights and shadows filling their experience,  
  • listening to the rhythms, poly-rhythms and varying textures of their daily sounds so they can learn the exquisite, extraordinary "music" in each day,  
  • experiencing the physical sensations which heighten awareness of movement, balance and touch, warmth, coolness, pleasure, 
  • tasting the subtleties of one bite of food from another, rather than slamming food down the gullet while doing something else,
they become radically desensitized to the wonderful all around them. They never develop or seek how to ponder the meaning behind what they are experiencing. It whispers only to the attentive who have learned how to recognize wonders when they encounter it in their "ordinary" days.

Wonder requires a belief in the possibility of some sort of enticing MEANING or ORDER or MYSTERY behind all meaning, including what the senses apprehend as design or pattern. A mystery hides in the fact there is anything wonderful at all. People experience it, if they pay attention or give thought, moments of joy or delight or beauty which can transport them into a momentary lightness of being they want to repeat. Wonder is experiencing a deep pleasure of the heart and a magnificent delight to the senses, or the mind. The heart was made with a natural capacity for wonder, and enchantment and delight. The mind wants to "see" what it is and apprehend its meaning. That's not all the heart or mind were made for, but few of us cultivate their abilities to respond with wonder easily at all the miraculous populating our days.

Wonder Deficit Disorder keeps its victims from closely looking, deeply listening, richly tasting, exquisitely feeling, or pondering contemplatively. They live as surface dwellers unaware, creatures of habit caught in an affective sleepwalk - blind to much beyond the prurient, entertaining, or "shocking".


Counseling, therapy or spiritual direction can be effective in uncovering how a person is motivated to experience wonder though the senses and the mind. The goal is to look for what people naturally are drawn to; what motivates them without having to think about it, and when do they feel most alive or most engaged. What makes them laugh? What gives them surprise? What do they call beautiful or funny or riveting? Why? Where do they look for meaning? When do they feel relaxed, or what draws their attention easily? When were they stunned by greatness or a sense of the sublime and ineffable? What took their breath-away? When did they encounter God? How did it happen?

The next step is to examine closely when and where their capacity for wonder was neglected, wounded or abused. What were they experiencing, and when did they let it fade, or how did it get crushed. Most times it will come at an early age. Certainly, kids with rich imaginations, fantasy lives and creative sensibilities can be victimized more readily because they communicate what they see, hear, imagine and feel as if it's normal. Other kids will let it go when they pick up cues from family it is time to grow up, or turn to other pursuits everyone else their age are doing.

Also, learning to pray and contemplate in silence seem to re-awaken the ability to notice the exquisite hidden in plain sight in the ordinary, the simple or the majestic. The settling and being which grows from praying, makes the person more and more awake to what lies all around. People learn to notice by praying and contemplating. Wonder comes from noticing, recognizing apprehending and pondering sufficiently to be ravished by it.

Many thanks to Abraham Joshua Heschel who reminded the world (and me) that the God of the Bible is the Source of all that is sublime, enchanting, wonderful and ineffable. It is He we must seek to recognize and apprehend the riches of wonder in Creation and the mysterium tremendum animating it all. I couldn't agree more. 

This week of Passover, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection Day) would not be a bad place for you to start.

May it become so...

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