The importance of AWE in our daily lives
“When it is dark enough you can see the stars.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Two weeks ago when I was mindlessly meandering on the Internet, actually trying to be productive but really just following whatever little shiny thing that caught my attention, I was led to and inadvertently landed on information about the eclipse. I went from my email to a Sunset magazine article about a streamlined kitchen – then to choco tacos, then to a clutter-free closet (oh wouldn’t that be nice?). Then I surfed to the travel section and was lured to ‘eclipse camping’ and then to “the path of totality”. As I was pinballing around the Internet, I closed pop-ups that annoyed me; answered texts about scheduling dates with friends; found some information I had not been able to retrieve before; heard from someone I haven’t heard from in a while, and then managed to purposefully follow some maps and videos of what the eclipse will look like from different cities, replaying these images over and over again.
I am intrigued by the eclipse and so of course, stayed focused on the information about it. I was reminded of the ‘Art and Science of AWE’ conference that I had attended last year, and how truly AWE-inspiring it was, and that was where I had first heard this solar eclipse being announced.
I searched for my notes, but could not find them anywhere, so I was delighted to realize that videos of the speakers from the conference were available online. Amazing how these devices of ours can be the bane of our existence (sucking us in, taking us on an interminable path, and never letting us go) in one moment, but providing us with access to healthy, healing, mindful experiences in the next.
When I reviewed the videos from the conference, I was awestruck once again…
Imagine this as you consider the upcoming solar eclipse:
Our sun is a typical star – it will die in five or 6 billion years. It is 100 times the size of earth in diameter. It takes eight minutes for light from the sun to reach earth (so we’re always seeing how it was eight minutes ago, not how it is right now). If you could travel as fast and as far as light travels in one second, you could circle the earth’s equator about eight times in that second! And the sun is 480 times that distance or 3840 times the distance around the equator away from us here on earth!
Now get THIS:
Our sun is only one of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. There are 100 billion galaxies in our observable universe (with the Hubble telescope). To get the right scale of this, imagine if the whole universe were the equivalent of the human body – our whole galaxy would be like a grain of sand held on one finger at arm’s length! With that scaling, imagine how infinitesimally small any one of us is, sitting at our computer, worrying our worries – and completely invisible on that grain of sand.
And on August 21st, deep in that tiny grain of sand, our sun is moving across the US in a path of totality – complete darkness while it is eclipsed by the moon. Millions of people will be watching and experiencing shadow and darkness in the middle of the day at the same time.
Pause for a moment and notice how that makes you feel… Hopefully you felt something akin to AWE. AWE is that sensation of being on the cusp of feeling insignificant and connected to something greater and profound at the same time; when you get tingles down your back; when you feel amazed, unable to describe what the experience is; so connected to others, and yet so singularly intimately impressed in the same moment; transcending the sublime and other-worldly. It’s when you say, “this can’t be happening” and yet here it is. You experience things like disbelief, unfathomability, incredulousness, remarkableness. You might feel astounded, your jaw may drop; you feel captivated and mesmerized; even deeply spiritually moved. You try to comprehend the vastness of this wonder larger than you, and you feel small in relation to it (but not the kind of inadequate small of painful childhood experiences). You may have difficulty wrapping your head around this thing or articulating it. Every cell in your body knows you’re experiencing something truly amazing – and often something that is so fleeting, but the memory of it lasts forever. An experience of AWE takes your breath away (is breathtaking) and at the same time you naturally breathe in deeply as you try to take it all in. You might catch yourself whispering “ahh…!” Or realize a sense of honor at being able to bear witness to this Ahh-mazing thing :).
AWE comes in many different forms, large (like the Grand Canyon) and small (like a hummingbird) and everything in between. For me, it’s in sunsets, waterfalls, children’s laughter, exploring ancient Rome; a rose bush in bloom; the variegated red rock of the Southwest; being at a pow wow; kayaking; violin music; hearing someone bravely tell their story, face their trauma and be filled with feeling at the same time; having a loved one in the ICU; a forest of trees; the ocean crashing; human acts of kindness; every day heroes; weddings; funerals; adoptions; drumming; watching the Warriors; witnessing someone wipe away a tear; ants; a magic trick; meditating; thunder and lightning storms; the wind toppling trees; the sky view from an airplane; night stars; world music and dance; people gathered in celebration or peace; being moved by someone who stands up to injustice…
I’m having anticipation AWE as I think about and learn about and look forward to the solar eclipse. I know the value of priming oneself for the experience of AWE – letting myself look for, but be surprised by at the same time – possibilities of an AWE filled experience. How about you – what’s your relationship to AWE in your life? What brings you AWE? Could you use a little more of it?
Did you know how beneficial AWE is to humans? Research shows AWE is positively correlated with generosity, compassion, decreased depression, connecting us to humanity and nature, humility, collaboration, decreased sense of entitlement, more sharing and altruism, kindness, less narcissism, innovation, resilience, good health, curiosity, emotional, physical and social well-being, decreased trauma and anxiety symptoms, better sleep, lowered stress reactions, prosocial behaviors, less self absorption, more meaningfulness experienced in life, empathy, gratitude and other positive emotions. AWE is transformative; it helps us to expand our mind, shift our perspective, and to learn and appreciate.
At the Greater Good Science Center, director Dacher Keltner says we should look for more daily experiences of AWE, to treat our sense of AWE-deprivation that we as a society are struggling with (maybe that contributes to why narcissism and hatred are so on the rise?) He recommends not underestimating the power of goosebumps in our daily self- and planet- care. A daily dose of AWE helps us deal also with our existential angst – that of knowing one day we will die. And of course, being more open to the infinite number of opportunities we have – grand (like the solar eclipse) and minute (like a lady bug) to experience AWE, is a very helpful and healing course to take as we make our way through these troubled times.
For some excellent and inspiring talks, truly amazing video clips and even a test you can take to see how much AWE is in your life, check out The Greater Good Center’s “Art and Science Of Awe” conference video series here.
“I always say that if everybody sees a total solar eclipse, the world would be a better place” – Dr. Kate Russo, eclipse chaser and psychologist.
Let’s make this world a better place. It’s been said we have a responsibility to AWE. I wish you the sacred and meaningful experience of AWE many times over in your next days (even if you’re not able to get to the path of totality!)
If you’re feeling difficulty in finding awe or other positive emotions in your life and you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.