I did not know the word for it until this week. This week I learned that sonder is the emotional experience of deeply realizing that other people are living complicated and complex lives. I've often stood on the ground with an airplane going overhead and wondered about all the people on board that flight; I've gotten lost in thought wondering about what they were feeling or going through, why they were traveling -- for fun or for sorrow. I have walked end-of-life journeys with many and realized that I can never know when I might be beside someone in a grocery store line, or at a sporting event who is going through extremely difficult circumstances. I've learned from my reflections on feeling sonder that compassion and accepting another person's reality is an important thing to hold.
I see numbers of people who are having mystifying health problems for which they've been discounted, ignored, or told "it's all in your head." Feeling sonder helps me back up and know that to this person their pain is real, their experience is real, and it's very often not their fault. Our knowledge base of what ails us is in no way complete. Our knowledge base of the infinite array of things that can go wrong just in the physical sphere is tiny. Simply because a panel of university physicians don't know what is wrong with a person does not mean that that person's experience of poor health is illegitimate. I have people come into my office at least monthly who say, "I have this really weird symptom that I haven't shared with anyone because I don't want anyone to think I'm crazy." More often than not, that symptom provides a new clue.
I learned about sonder from a Facebook post called, "23 Emotions People Feel but Can't Explain." I did not know the names of all the feelings, but I had experienced them all when I read the descriptions. It may be an American cultural thing, but we (and our limited English language) have difficulty talking about or identifying emotions outside the restrictive "feeling palette" of happy, depressed, anxious, or angry. Perhaps we would understand one another better if we weren't so ready to pigeonhole someone's feelings into one of these four little boxes?
As a naturopath, I've known for more than twenty years that the emotional realm of a person's life has as much influence on a person's health as diet, sleep, exercise, or any of the other topics you will find on this blog. Where you live emotionally day in and day out has a tremendous impact on how your life unfolds; it has huge impacts on how your body works. Does your emotional life need to change? Perhaps it's something worth exploring.
Nature Words for your Health