Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age

"While I was seeking the words to describe what I longed for, Katherine May wrote them all in this book. I will return to Enchantment again and again."

Katherine May
Riverhead Books, 210 pages | Published March 7, 2023 

Katherine May experienced the same anxieties and loneliness we all did during the pandemic. Perpetually depleted, she asked, “is there a different way to live?” After examining the restorative properties of the natural world – earth, water, fire and air – she discovered answers to easing her anxieties right outside her door.

Like May, I experienced anxiety at the start of the pandemic and then found my footing in a slower pace of life — returning to the “normal” pace of life did me in, as I longed for the days when the family took long walks with the dog. While I was seeking the words to describe what I longed for, Katherine May wrote them all in this book. I will return to Enchantment again and again.

Earth is full of natural treasures. When I travel, I often find a shell or a rock and take it home as a reminder. Similarly, May collects stones and often holds them as she writes, creating a kind of hierophany — the divine revealing itself to us. We can make natural objects sacred by sensing their magic and allowing ourselves to be sustained by them.

Water is necessary for life and binds us all together. May says “there are two giant waves travelling endlessly around the earth, and twice a day we see their full volume. We barely sense the scale of what is really happening because we only ever witness it locally.” Next time you pass an ocean, stay and watch the changing of the tide.

Air, too, is essential for life.  As May says, “subtly, imperceptibly, air brings in the new.”  Another glorious word May shares is saeculum — the span of time lived by the oldest person present. There is a saeculum or “living memory” between two people, which is the extent of contact we have with each passing era. Imagine a circle drawn around you, connecting with the past and to the things you offer to the future.  May believes it is our sacred duty to bridge that space by sharing our stories, which provides generational fellowship as we share centuries of knowledge.

Fire brings destruction and ultimately new life. Why have we allowed ourselves to believe that we must always be happy? We do not live in absence of suffering. “Fire brings us back into contact with the cycle of life, the limits of our control and with the full spectrum of human feelings. Fire burns through our fragile illusions making us small again.” Remember that you are simultaneously unique and simply one of eight billion others.

I love May’s phrase “possibilitarian”; like her, I crave contact and connection with others who feel all things are possible. She says we have a “duty to witness the broad spectrum of humanity, rather than defend our own corner …” When we connect with others, we are open to “the possibility that it might change me in ways that I can’t predict … that I might one day do better.”

May has “done better” by sharing the possibilities just outside her door. Can we join her in becoming possibilitarians?

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