Awe and the Ordinary
Author’s Note ~ Slow Road Home:
I know this from my photographer’s experience: any image I take is one of a kind. Each composition in light or in words is unique. The light will never be that color from that angle on that exact configuration of barn, tree or wildflower ever again.
And this: that we too often take for granted the extraordinary senses of vision and hearing, touch and smell that are our gifts– opportunities given us by which we could know the familiar beauties too often missed or dismissed in our hurried lives. We have so little time in the present and there is so very much to take in and share.
There are wonders all around. From our everyday lives, these familiar things may seem unremarkable to us. But in these precious instants in time, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts ready to know it, there is nothing ordinary.
This topic could, and maybe will, become a too-long-didn’t-read essay someday, since it is AWE that might have been the single strongest driver over the 17 years of my writing life–to expect it, to search for it, to nurture it, and to understand its implications for the good it can do towards keeping one’s eyes and mind open to the largeness and wonder of the every-day fragments that make up our lives.
There is much to say about the gift and experience of awe. And much of it is said in this recent research study on the subject that is so underlined in yellow marker on my copy that WHY BOTHER?
For all but a few who will actually read the article, here are some selections that describe the human experience of awe and its consequences:
” the emotion we feel in response to something vast that defies our existing frame of reference in one area or another, and leads us to change our perception of that frame of reference.
“It’s how we respond when we see something new or novel that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the world,”
“…One important distinction between awe and other emotions (like inspiration or surprise) is that awe makes us feel small – or feel a sense of “self-diminishment” in science-speak. And that’s good for us, Stellar explains.
Feeling small makes us feel humbled (thereby lessening selfish tendencies like entitlement, arrogance, and narcissism). And feeling small and humbled makes us want to engage with others and feel more connected to others, Gordon adds.“All of that is important for wellbeing,” she says.”
“Other research from Anderson’s group (which he notes is currently undergoing peer review and is not yet published) suggests that more awe-prone people are more curious – as deemed by both themselves and their friends – and that this awe-curiosity duo may bolster academic achievement in grade-school children (as it has been linked to higher self-efficacy, work ethic, and academic performance).”
Think about how the experience of awe, at its best, creates a state of generosity, charity, curiosity and humility so infrequently seen today among our “greatest” public figures.
In a climate of fear; in an inward-focused, self-absorbed view of the world; in a world that is concerned obsessively with me-here-now, there is little place for awe to take us beyond our small worlds and bring us back to more solid grounding, with gratitude and joy, in the places and times of our lives.
Awe is epiphany; the AHA! that gives us perspective. It says YES to the cosmos. Faced with possibilities, it says YES, enter in. The climate of mistrust and deception, of hubris and fear says NO. Build a wall.