“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Marcus Aurelius
With so many of us stressed out and leading jam-packed lives without a minute to spare, it’s easy to forget how important it is to slow down, observe, and sink into the beauty that envelops us in nature…and in our everyday lives.
How many of you have memories from your childhood of laying outside on a summer night, staring up at the stars, or on a summer day watching the waves on the ocean and experiencing a feeling so transcendent that if someone asked you to describe it back then you wouldn’t have had the words to do so?
How many of you remember feeling goosebumps as kids on the 4th of July watching fireworks as they zipped through the black skies?
What you were having then and thousands of times throughout your childhood were awe-inspiring experiences.
My Childhood Memories of Awe
Although I’ve been a passionate gardener my entire adult life, I wasn’t as a child.
I was raised in a middle class household in Dallas, Texas and Rochester, New York where we kids were expected to do chores: gardening was one of them. That translated into digging up dandelion weeds in the lawn, pulling them out of the garden, and helping my Mom transplant specimens a couple of times a season.
When I spent time in nature though, I had awe-inspiring experiences.
From a very young age, I was mesmerized by flowers. If I close my eyes, I can literally see myself as a chubby, curly headed little girl pushing my face up close to peonies so I could gaze at their beauty and feel the texture of their soft petals. Or taking in the luxurious scent of lilacs and being dazzled by the number of teeny flowers that made up one flower stalk.
I was captivated by anything that had to do with nature. I could sit for hours on the front walkway of my aunt’s house, when spending summers with my cousins in Cleveland, playing with potato bugs and observing the industrious nature of the ants parading around. How I loved the smell of those damp boxwoods that lined the front walkway!
When our huge willow tree in the front yard in Rochester started swaying and making whooshing sounds because a storm was brewing, I would run outside to catch its undulating dance before I heard the rumbling sounds of thunder. Running my fingers down a thin branch lined with leaves touched my soul in ways I didn’t understand back then.
“There are in life a few moments so beautiful, that even words are a sort of profanity.” Diane Palmer
What Is Awe?
In Western culture, we use the word ‘awesome’ in casual conversation, like “How awesome!” or “I had an awesome experience!”
But the actual definition of the word AWE from Dictionary.com is:
“An overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, and fear produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.”
The good news is that awe can be found in our daily lives.
If you spend a lot of time in nature, you most likely are having interludes with awe several times a week. But even if your ‘awe muscles’ are being used on a regular basis, it can’t hurt to become more mindful of the benefits that you are accruing.
And if you’re not a regular ‘awe practitioner’, once you read how transformative awe-inspiring experiences are, my hunch is that you’ll feel galvanized to jump-start a practice of bringing awe into your daily life.
6 Reasons for Experiencing a Sense of Awe
1. Awe promotes altruism and loving-kindness
The researchers describe awe as “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” They point out that people commonly experience awe in nature, but also feel a sense of awe in response to religion, art, music, etc.
In one experiment, the researchers induced awe by placing participants in a forest of towering eucalyptus trees. ”
2. Awe enables us to be more present and live in the moment.
In a 2012 study done at Stanford University, the researchers found “that awe has the ability to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, which underlies awe’s capacity to adjust time perception, influencing decisions, and make life feel more satisfying.”
In modern life, time is a scarce commodity. A recent poll of over 1000 Americans found nearly half (47%) felt that they didn’t have enough time in their daily life (Carroll, 2008).
3. Awe increases kindness, compassion, and generosity
“In two unpublished studies, it was found that awe makes people more generous and more helpful to others. In one study, nearly 300 participants were randomly divided into three groups and watched one of three video clips. A group that watched nature scenes edited to evoke awe tended to agree with statements like “I feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The participants were given a test to measure generosity called a dictator task. They were told they would get 10 lottery tickets for a prize drawing and would be assigned a partner who wouldn’t get tickets and didn’t know about the drawing. When asked how many tickets they wanted to give their partners, people in the awe group said they would give away approximately 25% more.”
Source: Wall Street Journal
4. Awe promotes curiosity and wonder
In an opinion piece written by Dacher Keltner, author of Born to Be Good, Professor of Psychology at The University of California and of Greater Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life for Slate Magazine, he describes how sleep-deprived parents can still observe their baby’s and toddler’s immense curiosity and wonder of everything in the world.
I witness both of my adult children and their spouses in daily states of awe with their baby and toddler.
And guess what? Not only am I in awe of my grandchildren when this happens but I’m in awe of my children and what loving, kind, and generous parents they embody. Awe is the gift that just keeps on giving.
5. Awe drives people to paradigm-shifting discoveries and new technologies
Dacher Keltner’s studies at Berkeley “are finding that simply watching short videos of expansive images of the Earth leads people to generate more unusual exemplars of a category (e.g., “furniture”), to find greater interest in abstract paintings, and to persist longer at working at difficult puzzles when compared to appropriate control conditions. ”
Source: Slate Magazine
6. Awe opens up the portals to creativity
“A 2012 study from Tel Aviv University found that “expansive thinking” could lead to boosts in creativity. According to the study’s lead researcher, “outward” rather than “inward”-focused thinking helped children to consider different perspectives and see beyond their present situation.
In the study, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, beginning with local objects such as a pencil sitting on the desk in front of them, and progressing to vast or faraway things, like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group of children was showed the images in the opposite order, from expansive to immediate. The children in the group that progressed from local to expansive images performed significantly better on a test of creativity directly after looking at the images than the children who looked at nearby images last.”
Source: Huffington Post
5 Easy Tips on How To Experience Awe
1. Spend Time In Nature
I’m singing to the choir for those of you who are already getting your hands in the dirt.
But even for those of you who aren’t gardeners, you can enter the portal of awe by watching a worm wiggle its way through moist soil, observing the sunlight streaming through the dappled shade or listening to the rustling of perennial grasses in the breeze.
Miracles are plentiful in nature. All you have to do is awaken your senses. And get outside…..without your cell phone.
2. Slow down, sit on a park bench, and observe
Rather than rushing back to your desk or out to lunch with friends during the work week, take your lunch, find a park bench where nature and people abound (if you work or live in the city this is a no-brainer) and just observe.
Being open and observing creates opportunity.
You may hear music, see a group of kids playing, dogs romping about….who knows what!
3. Look Up At the Sky
People are so busy on their phones as they walk down the street that it’s no longer common place for people to make eye contact with each other, let alone look up at the sky.
Make time for gazing at stars and watching a glorious sunset. Not only are you taking in the beauty of the earth but you’re enabling your consciousness to expand.
I keep a small 3D placard of the Milky Way on my desk so that throughout the day I can pick it up and gaze at it. I try to make the time, at least a few times a week, to go on NASA’s website, especially their multi-media gallery.
4. Meditate or Contemplate
I have an early morning ritual of meditating to the voice and thoughts of Dr. Joe DiSpenza. You can buy meditations on his website. After the initial 5 minutes of warming up, I imagine myself flying in space to different galaxies and experiencing ‘the best of me’ in parallel universes.
By the time I finish my meditation (it’s less than 25 minutes), I feel as if I’ve traveled to another time and space.
Have I had an interlude with awe? You bettcha!
5. Listen to Classical Music Or Jazz
I love several types of music but there is something in the tonal quality of both classical and jazz that, I think, induces feelings of reverie, wonder, and awe.
I use You Tube a lot to watch or listen to performances of Lang Lang, Evgeny Kissin, and Yo-Yo Ma, a few of my favorite classical performers.
Do yourself a favor and don’t multi-task when listening to the music. Give yourself time to sit or watch and listen quietly.
And of course, if you can see a live performance of your orchestra or a guest artist, go for it. Most cities now offer last minute discount tickets.
A Quick Exercise To Do Right Now
Close your eyes and remember the times when you had an interlude with awe….it could be in nature, gazing at a piece of art, playing or listening to music, observing or participating in sports or dance, or even tasting something delicious….just to name a few things.
You needn’t spend more than a few minutes on it
Leave a comment below on how you feel after doing this exercise.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others on social media. It’s good karma and you’ll be spreading the word on how someone can improve their life. With love, Fran