The Unfolding and Evolution of Wonder Anew
Wonder Anew began as a postcard project after I attended a silent retreat in September 2013 with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) and took The Five Mindfulness Trainings. The retreat message was powerful: if you want to contribute to healing and to help the world, start with yourself.
I experienced and saw participants face rather than flee difficult situations, thoughts, and feelings using practices such as being quiet and still, meditation, reflection, deep listening, talking from the heart, and walking silently together.
After the retreat, by email, Thay asked people to share one way they were healing themselves and making a change. I responded, and then wondered what others were doing to heal themselves. That moment of curiosity led to Wonder Anew.
I shared with a few others what I learned, and then wondered with them what they thought about asking others to share personal experiences of change. We crafted a question, “What personal positive change have you made or do you want to make in your life?” on self-addressed, stamped postcards and passed them out in college classrooms and on the streets in Denton, Texas. Two professors at the University of North Texas invited me to present Wonder Anew to their students. A counselor who worked with people in addiction rehab did Wonder Anew workshops with her groups. Some teachers saw the Wonder Anew lesson published in SchoolArts magazine.
Postcard responses anonymously arrived and I thought they would make a fascinating blog. Others thought so, too. Wonder Anew gained visibility. Online interest and response grew. I received responses like these, mostly from middle and high school students.
Some people wanted to be identifed by name.
Some responses circulated the internet gathering visitors.
Some people wrote about personal dreams and included self-photographs. Like this one from Christy Moe Marek. She wrote, "I am learning to listen to my heart...I am called to work with ill and dying children and tell their stories." I began to think more about what my gift is to the family of our world.
Some postcards were wake-up wishes. Like this one from Meredith Roberts Hepburn. She said, "I realized I am sleep-walking through my life and dreams." Wonder Anew became a place where Meredith voiced a change she wanted to make.
Tracie Wells' postcard made me want to reframe Wonder Anew. I became curious about whether people would be willing to share how they process and learn from their challenging experiences.
When I received a self-portrait from a high school student that said "Stop doing heroin," I wished that I knew more about what was happening in her life, how she thought and felt, and whether she was able to stop using heroin.
I wondered if she saw this person's postcard: "No more...It's my choice." That imagined connection inspired me to begin thinking about how sharing our experiences is beneficial.
This postcard from a high school student received a lot of visibility on Facebook. It had 92,300 views and 6,197 likes and a lively comment thread mostly between teenagers.
This person shared a personal change and a little about how the change came about.
A full-page story was attached to this image telling about a horrific car accident and paralysis and a shift in thinking: "I wished to die, but I've had a change of heart. I will raise money to buy reciprocating gait orthotics to walk across the stage to receive my diploma and then I'll teach middle school.” She did. I was moved by her plight and awed by how she worked with her challenge. A year after I posted her story on the blog, she got a job as a middle school teacher and sent 150 postcards created by her students.
Korean filmmaker and professor Wooksang Chang shared a raw and revealing story about suffering from depression when one of his films did not gain the success he hoped. He admitted that he worked for fame, realized his intent, and then decided to create from a bigger purpose. Now he makes art and film for personal meaning and as a way to bring the "pleasantness of life" to others.
Professor David Herman wrote about remembrance. Then he asked his students, "How do you want to be remembered and what importance will it have to your loved ones and the world in general?” Students answered his question in the comment section under his post on Wonder Anew. His question made me think about the effect of a personal change on loved ones and the world.
James Haywood Rollings, Jr. wrote, “I want to provoke dialogue about what it means to be human, to be creative, and to value the stories we live by even if those stories are not originated in one’s personal experience. Those stories must first be moved from the unfamiliar to home.” This made me want to look closely at my experiences and the stories I create about them so that I can better listen to and understand the stories others are living.
This person sent a photograph and audio. Hearing someone share a difficulty reminds me of the value of saying out loud my response. The telling can be a relief, and if the listener is quiet and attentive, a challenge unravels and reveals.
This was in the last batch of postcards from middle school students. Inspired by the raw honesty, I began to create a new website.
In two years, I received over 1700 postcards of personal change. All posted postcards remain on the online. The last postcard I received was from artist and professor Hazel Terry. She drew an image that depicts a personal positive change as a gift to the world.
Wonder Anew Today
Wonder Anew now focuses on working with personal difficulty using these eight questions. The first response to the questions was from Tak Do-yeon, an acclaimed artist from South Korea. She wrote about how she faced the despair of an accident.
The first postcard. November 10, 2013.
#1 - I stopped using crack.
#2 – I used to compulsively pick at the skin of my fingers with a needle. Now I sew and knit. I give the things I make away.
#3 – I want to shake my drug addiction.
#4 – I really should stop gossiping.
#5 – I want to change my fear of light when I’m surrounded by darkness.
#6 – I want to change my skin. I can bleach my skin when I am of age to undergo surgeries.
#7 – I started to not care about what magazines say is “pretty.”
#8 – Doing what I love has changed my world. It’s a step that could one day change the world.
#9 – I want to be a better gift receiver, working at kind, non-judgmental receiving…shoving aside any disappointment or disdain.
#10 – I wish I could stop feeling like I don’t belong anywhere.
#1 – I honestly need to stop looking at the people I don’t know and automatically assuming that I’m better than them.
#2 – I used to think that I was different, didn’t fit in, and felt alone. Now I know that I am connected.
#3 – I want to stop needing people to like me. I will try to become the person that I want to be and that will be enough.
#4 – I read somewhere that fast food as a major part of one’s diet could lead to depression, so I cut it out of mine.
#5 – I started belly dancing. I feel more confident about my body.
#6 – I am proud of myself for doing things that other people would be proud of themselves for not doing. As a former anorexic, when I decide to eat a cheeseburger or when I sleep in instead of work out, I am proud of what I’ve learned to let go.
#7 – I want to be okay with being alone.
#8 – Every time I’ve gotten my fortune told or my palm read, I’ve been told I’m going to die young, so I try to live my life with intensity and without regret.
#9 – No more eating animals. I educated myself about protein and changed my belief that I needed to get it from animals.
#10 – I moved 7 hours away from my hometown. I’m the happiest I have ever been in my life.
#1 - I am changing the way I speak - to my loved ones, to strangers, to myself. Each day I spend 15 minutes saying “I love you” to me. Then I practice saying I love you to others, though I don't often use those exact words. Samika Swift
#2 - The most significant positive change I made recently in my life was to simply slow… down…. I am always on the move and I rarely even think about what I am doing—like a zombie on autopilot. Joni Acuff
#3 - The thing I would like to change is to not argue with my parents and to have a better concept that what they're telling me will help me in life and understand that what they are saying is not to do bad things and to make right choices.
#4 - I spend $. BUY. Totally into getting stuff. My spending is out of control. When I get money, I spend it. When I buy something, I feel invincible. I want to stop pretending that I don't have a problem. I'm trying to change. My counselor says money is a relationship.
#5 - As I embark upon my senior year, something I am in desperate need of is self-control. I am in this mind state that I am invincible, that my decisions as a 21-year-old will not affect my life as a 50-year-old, but this is ignorant and wishful thinking. I need to know when to stop—to stop drinking, to stop talking, to end my day and go to sleep, and when to stop working. Waking up after a night of partying in the hospital is unacceptable and unnecessary and staying awake all night to do work is just the same. As I find some self-control, I hope to find more self-respect.
#6 - I have made a positive change in my life by throwing away ALL of my blades.
#7 - I want to be free of all the beliefs that I thought were mine but that aren't. Suzanne McRae
#8 - If I could change something about myself, I would change how I always apologize for nothing.
#9 - The ongoing evolution that seems to be happening through this body-mind is an awakening of loving awareness…the more it emerges, the more my prayer is to live from that presence, to “be” that loving. Often that takes the form of seeing our shared vulnerability and holding with care and seeing the beauty and goodness that lives through all of us. - Tara Brach
#10 - I used to think a martyr was what a "mom" should be. Now, I no longer feel the need to explain or apologize for taking care of me. My wants are important too.