The Importance of Paying Attention to Resonance

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When I discover myself, I am a waterfall. Like a waterfall, a hallowed gush, I feel sound in my bones and toes. When I’m full, I am that hum, a chord struck inside the heart of a bowl, continuing to drum on its edges. When I’m struck by a beautiful view, a sentence, a cry, or a color, there is a vibrating sensation that sticks with me. I define this vibration, this careful flicker, as resonance.

We live in a fast world. Our desires are served on a silver platter. Obsessions show up on our front doorstep or in the palm of our hands with a tap. We expect delivery of satisfaction in an Amazon package. Bosses expect us to respond to Teams chats and emails within minutes. We feel a tightness when we’re emotionally unavailable and can’t respond to a text message. The hum we crave is no longer personal. It’s shared. We lose resonance. We’re unscathed by reflection in a world that moves too fast for us to sit with anything. 

So, I challenge this. How can we pay more attention to the stuff that, instead, sticks? What does it mean when we’re careful enough to pause and become struck by that chord of resonance? And how can we cherish and understand these moments and how they define who we are?

We’re unscathed by reflection in a world that moves too fast for us to sit with anything. 

In the dictionary, resonance is the process of being deep, full, and reverberating. In its entirety, resonance is quite mathematical, the initial definition of the word related to formulas and calculations. For me, resonance is more than science. It’s about taking the time to notice moments that gently push us forward. We can benefit from the legs of its fullness, the marathon of holistic sound, and what sits with us, by slowing down and asking ourselves: “Why did that resonate with me? And what can I do to feel the energy in reflection more often?”

One of my favorite books, Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, tells a story about a daredevil woman charting her path in aviation. Somewhere in the book, a character discusses the potential of death; crashing an airplane. Her friend says, “I was interested in what you said at that dinner, about how when we die everything evaporates. I think that was the word? It resonated with me. I try to pay attention to resonance.” This quote was incremental to me. Paying attention to what resonates with us can mean a dozen things. And paying attention to what stops us in our tracks will offer a fullness that can heal us. 

I read somewhere that a playground swing was one of the most familiar human examples of resonance in a physical manner. A gentle push (i.e., resonance) helps maintain the amplitude of a swing motion. Couldn’t this action be accurate for humans too? A gentle bit of energy and reflection maintains our width and breadth as people. Resonance helps us move and lift, accessing a higher part of ourselves we couldn’t know without it.

I haven’t read Alice Waters’ book We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto but this quote about understanding that things take time SAT with me: “Speed is the engine of fast food culture, powering all other values. Speed says things should happen really fast—the faster, the better. You order, you get it. You want it, you should have it. But with speed, if there’s not instant gratification, there’s frustration. There’s no maturity, no time for reflection, no patience. Our expectations become warped, and we become easily distractible. We lose the sense that things take time—like growing food or cooking or learning a language or starting a business—or getting to know someone, for that matter. Time is money. And when time becomes money, so much becomes meaningless, including our work.” 

Consider emotions. People tell stories about trauma and shock and note that they didn’t feel emotion until later. Last year, a dear friend of mine passed away. When I heard the news, I didn’t cry. Emotions didn’t show face until I felt the buzz of his life. When I heard memories from his friends, stood in the path of hundreds of his loved ones, I burst into tears. Resonance gave me the openness and the time to feel. 

A gentle bit of energy and reflection maintains our width and breadth as people. Resonance helps us move and lift, accessing a higher part of ourselves we couldn’t know without it.

Resonance can also make us closer to one another. Bryony Gordon wrote about her depression for an essay in The Telegraph. Reading the piece, I realized how important it is to get close to depression and use moments to feel its burly mouth sinking on us. Why? Because depression resonates. She describes the comfort in understanding why she feels depressed. In her time writing about mental health and working things out in her head, she learned that depression is a strange mechanism, a way of “alerting you that your life is not working as is.” She writes, “In this context, a collective sense of not feeling quite right is the most right thing.”

Resonance can give us answers and help us understand one another. We can’t access these insights when we’re rushing through the daily drum of life. Depression is one of the scariest gauzy feelings, but if I take the time to understand its reason for being, I am better for that. When I front-face my fears—doubt, pain, joy, and healing—I better understand why they have to sit with me. 

In my experience, the pandemic made me feel like I lost the power of noticing things that make me pause. Routine, in my mind, is the great thief of how we discover things and sit with what moves us. With routine, we become complacent. When we do the same thing every day, see the same person, rise with our daily alarm, eat the same breakfast, stay away from travel, we can lose what makes us feel expansive. We lack the potential tickle of surprise; the urgent anticipation of the unknown. Resonance is prominent when I travel. I’m not focusing on a mundane to-do list. I’m smelling new smells, trying foods, strolling down streets I’ve never seen before. How can we go beyond the stagnant day-by-day and break past the numbness we all feel?

Reflection and resonance are two different things. I wanted to be sure to include that here, as I thought about it in a lurch last night taking a bath. Resonance is when something sits with us, and we notice that propel us forward. Reflection is understanding the importance of the pause.

So, what is it that makes us resonate with things? According to this website (Writer’s Note: and one of the only ones I could find about emotional resonance), things that resonate bring joy—and that’s why we notice them. When it came to depression, what resonated was noticing depression didn’t resonate. Depression became an indication that I needed to change my life. 

We should pay attention to what resonates with us, and doesn’t resonate with us, because that split moment of push or pull flags a sense of enlightenment. When something resonates with me, I know it’s valuable. When something doesn’t resonate with me, I know I need change. When I read a good sentence in a book, that urge to underline it, it’s a reminder for me to ask why. Why does this sentence mean so much to me? To pay attention to resonance is to know who we are. To sort through its existence is to know who we can become. 

Resonance is why I write. Resonance is why I read. It’s why I love being patient and quiet. It’s why I listen to horses. It’s why I crave travel, meditation, and yoga. What a gift it is to be flagged by joy in our quiet and, through that experience, understand what makes us who we are.

When I read a good sentence in a book, that urge to underline it, it’s a reminder for me to ask why. Why does this sentence mean so much to me? To pay attention to resonance is to know who we are. To sort through its existence is to know who we can become. 

What resonates with me replenishes me. So for fun, I made a list. So I can better understand how to feel replenished. And I highly recommend you do too. Deep breath (my little list of things that resonate): metaphors, stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, songs about carefulness and love, the color blue, advice from children, origin stories, the tender philosophy of time, horses, Mary Oliver, cats in the sun, childhood memories, springtime, and the ocean.

I can always go back to this list when I’ve forgotten who I am. I can go back to this list when I need to slow down; take the time to reflect. I can go back to this list when I need to feel that hum of life, that ever-sweet swoosh of harmony within myself.

So, in this one wild and precious life, what resonates with you?

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