The word Sonder is defined by the wictionary as ‘the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it’.
The reason you might not have hear the word before is that it was actually coined by graphic designer John Koenig in 2012 for his project ‘The dictionary of obscure sorrows’. Chances are however that you recognize the feeling. You might have felt it while sitting in a restaurant or the train observing someone else for a moment.
Now I would like to invite you to come along on this meditative/contemplative practice. Take a moment and follow me on a conscious Sonder-Ponder.
Sit down in a crowded restaurant, train-car, tramcar, bus, train-station, airport or somewhere with a lot of people. Start observing people around you (discretely), Try to let go of judgement (toward yourself and others) and just watch how their lives play out in front of your eyes. Realize deeply that each and every person you see has a life as vivid and complex as my own. Every person! Let that sink in for a minute…
They also see, hear ,smell, taste, feel, think & experience the world around them, much like you do. They have a more or less complex network of relationships, conditions & circumstances that guide their daily life, much like you do. They have passions, drama, thoughts, feelings, ticks, quirks, desires, aversions, worries & fancies, much like you do.
They have the idea that what they see and experience is in fact ‘objective reality’, much like you do. They have a stream of consciousness, one or more voices providing them with a near constant live commentary, much like you do.
Some moments I feel like the whole world revolves around me, and in a way I am right. The reality I see and I experience does revolve around me. In the same way the people I am watching sometimes feel like the whole world revolves around them, and in a way they’re equally right. The reality we create together contains 7 billion individual realities interlaced and interconnected in an increasing number of ways.
Realize that you hold the power to influence these realities at any given moment, and that you often do, whether you are conscious of it or not. Other times you pass unseen through the little kodak moments of other peoples lives. Just an extra. Uncredited.
I believe that using Sonder-Ponder as a meditative/contemplative practice can have a powerful effect on our lives. I can only speak from experience, but it has helped me cultivate a higher sense of compassion, connectedness, community & curiosity.
Try it for yourself and turn the next trainride into a moment of connection with the dancing light of humanity in all of us. If you know someone who gets stuck on a train, tram or bus right from time to time, share this post with them.