Awestruck

A Carefree Sort Of Walk by Yaoyao Ma Van As. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

Embracing wonder makes miracles happen. Awe can transform our mental health. Most of the field of psychiatry remains (as it does today) focused on illness, pathology, and suffering. In contrast to the disease model, which focuses on how to best undo negative conditions, the real panacea is awe and other positive mental states. Awe motivates virtue.

Awe is always a manifestation of unconditional love. Awe is purity, innocence, and honesty together. The key is that we encounter something that exceeds our routine frame of reference and spurs us to move our awareness from the rational mind into the heart area. Not the physical heart, of course.

The two major forms of awe are: primitive (that the majority of the modern people experience and display) and refined (that the same people can experience if they evolve spiritually). On this page, we’re talking about the refined awe.
two-major-forms-of-awe
The same person, based on his/her spiritual development, can experience the primitive or refined states of awe

The moments of awe are both overwhelming and life changing. A key effect of awe is that we feel a sense of connection to something larger than ourselves. Awe blurs the line between the self and something much better than us, diminishes the ego, and links us to the greater forces that surround us in the world and the higher planes.

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Anne of Green Gables (1979 TV series, Japan)

Awe-inspiring moments are all around us, ranging from the grand to the commonplace. All we need to do is to increase these experiences in our daily lives. But reflect on our typical day. Our lifestyles today do not lend themselves to the awe-inspiring. Our culture has become “awe-deprived” these days. Fortunately, small steps toward becoming more awestruck can make long-lasting changes. Even a tiny fleck of awe stops time.

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For some, awe emerges when we stand before a piece of art, feel a sense of deep connection with some movie characters, listening to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, or even watching Winnie the Pooh movies and TV shows. Far from being an extravagant luxury, experiences of awe are an essential part of life wisely lived. Awe moves us away from primitivism toward moral greatness or sublimity, or mysterious sacredness. Egotism vanishes.

Awestruck is our connection with mighty “beyond.” Awe is now coming to be seen as a crucial part of a meaningful life. Awe can be found in a wide range of experiences, from the everyday to the divine. Awe is an innate sense of reverence for something out there, something much higher than all our most creative imagination can give. Awe is a deep spiritual connection with that indescribable celestial beauty and love.

Awe state is beyond our intellectual comprehension (beyond the mind and intellect). Not only does awe connect us to those around us, but it also spurs us to act in more compassionate and generous ways toward other people. When we become awestruck, we tend to become more altruistic toward others. Awe arouses altruism! Awe also promotes curiosity.

Awe grants us countless benefits. Experiences of awe shift us out of materialism and align us with the deeper, more meaningful values. Time and time again, experiences of awe shift people away from more material concerns toward a higher plane. Experiencing more awe in our everyday lives is the most powerful stress-buster at our fingertips. Awe has been shown to possess healing powers in ways that might form future mental health treatment approaches. Even more amazingly, these gains from the states of awe are maintained even weeks later, showing that awe-provoking experiences, while fleeting, can have lasting positive effects on our mental well-being.

Women experience awe more often than men. It’s one of the reasons why they live longer. Awe causes time to be “stretched out” as if time has expanded and has made us go from being “time poor” to “time rich.” The degree to which people experience awe is directly correlated with their improved symptoms. More awe means a less mental disorder, along with increased overall well-being. There have been countless examples of people whose lives were forever changed or drastically improved by the powerful or even regular experience of awe.

awe-protection
Nothing Can Dampen My Spirits by Yaoyao Ma Van As

Awe is a lightning bolt that cleanses the doors of perception, and we see with startling clarity what is truly important in life. Powerful moments of awe can help reconnect us to our values, remind us of what truly matters, and put our lives into a greater cosmoethical perspective. Experiences of awe can create within us, in literally the flash of a moment, new insights and wisdom that can change our lives forever. Awe leads to a shrinking of the ego, and humbles us in the face of something vast and transcending.

Cirque-du-Soleil-awe-research

 

Cirque du Soleil (Las Vegas) is working with neuroscientists to measure the states of awe (2018).

Moments of awe lead to specific changes in our brains in some incredible ways. They unblock key neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, thus improving our mental health in a unique and powerful way.

Experience of awe releases oxytocin, a hormone linked to feeling of warmth, closeness, and connection with others. Awe reduces mind-wandering, rumination (Stanford University, California), and negative self-judgment. It pulls us out of this pessimistic cycle and allows us to become immersed in the world around us. Awe brings us together and motivates us to help others.

There are many ways we can become more awestruck in our everyday lives. Some people are more predisposed to awe than others (in both frequency and intensity). Awe is correlated to traits like gratefulness, a love of learning, creativity, and appreciation for beauty. Each of us can boost our awe quotient and tap into the many benefits of awe. Simple practices can reliably induce experiences of awe, with major benefits to our mental health. We can become more awestruck through our own actions, habits, and choices in our daily lives. What elicits awe in one person may provoke a yawn in another. Allow your heart and inner wisdom to guide you along the way. Through conscious effort, you can evoke more feelings of awe throughout your life. Cultivate awe! How? Please see below.

1. Awe in the Present Moment

Some of the greatest poetry is revealing the beauty in something that was so simple you had taken it for granted (Neil deGrasse Tyson). A wandering mind is incapable of experiencing one of life’s most crucial gifts: moments of awe. With so many distractions pulling us in every direction, it’s easy to find ourselves pulled away from such moments. When you experience awe, linger, just a bit longer than you normally would, and remain with that feeling of awe just a bit longer. By slowing down just a bit, we can make space for awe to emerge. Be mindful of fully immersing yourself in the moment, luxuriating in your senses. Our breath itself is actually an awe-inspiring marvel. When it comes to awe, timing (being in the right place at the right time) truly is everything. Practice present-moment awareness, make space to pause, breathe, and notice. Incorporate some technology-free time.

2. Awe from Nature

Practice the Japanese art of “forest/park bathing,” allowing a feeling of awe, wonder, and amazement to wash over you. Mountains (or pictures of breathtaking mountain ranges) inspire us, mystify us, and instill us with a profound sense of awe. Plan a trip that deliberately seeks out opportunities for awe and wonder in nature. Experience the awe that flows when you notice animals in their natural habitats. Look at the clouds in the sky – the source of wonder and amazement. Take some time to fully absorb the sight of an awe-inspiring rainbow in the sky above. Take an “awe-walk” – an easy, mindful walk, paying specific attention to the wonder you encounter. Absorb the natural beauty of a sunset, feel a sense of deep and grateful awe for being able to witness this together with all past and future generations. Make a trip to the coast (ocean, lake, river, reservoir, etc.), and bask in the awe-provoking qualities of these bodies of water. Allow yourself to be wowed and awestruck by the incredible power of nature (hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis).

3. Awe from Vastness

The vastness and beauty of the night sky overwhelm with awe. Experience the feeling of awe from looking at images of the Earth from space. Our blue planet – pausing to consider the wonders of water may inspire awe. The incredible vastness of life on Earth infuses us with a sense of awe and wonder. Take the opportunity to gaze out from heights at the expanse below. Come face-to-face with the night sky and allow the experience to fully sink in. Think about the number of human beings inhabiting the world; it is mind-blowing to contemplate. Consciously and deliberately reflect on any kind of vastness that surrounds us, visible and invisible, inside and out. “New lenses” – microscopes, magnifying glasses, snorkeling or scuba masks, and telescopes – can open up new and awe-inspiring worlds.

4. Mind-Bending Awe

Imagine you’re someone from, say, 50 (100, 1000, or 5000) years ago. It will open you up to the awe of extraordinary in the ordinary of daily life. Human beings are made of stardust. Nearly every chemical element contained in our body comes from the stars above. We are awestruck by the countless awe-inspiring facts, wonders, and marvels that surround us. Earth is a “Goldilocks planet,” because it takes such a precise set of conditions for life to flourish as it does. It is truly awe-inspiring to think of how mysterious consciousness itself truly is. We share our genetic inheritance with everything, and everyone, through a common ancestor across all life on Earth. Our brain is remarkable. Just reading this short sentence, changed its structure through the process of neuroplasticity.

5. Awe from Courage and Inspiration

The timeless greatness of history’s true geniuses (poetry, music, science, art, etc.) continues to reverberate, filling us with awe. Seek out awe-inspiring stories about courageous people (real ones or fictional characters) who uplift us and help us strive to become better versions of ourselves. When we see someone performing at the highest level of their craft – it can inspire in us a sense of profound awe. Consider taking a moment to appreciate acts of leadership you’ve witnessed or heard about. During a time of disaster notice: the incredible, awe-inspiring courage of the survivors, and the compassion and kindness of the helpers.

6. Awe from Timelessness

See yourself as a link in the chain of history, and experience a sense of awe. Think about the present moment, the here and now, as a miniscule spotlight gradually moving along a gigantic ruler of time. We’re just visiting – that we each get a small slice of time here on Earth: “All of those sources of beauty and wonder were here long before I was born. It’s here now. And it will be here long after me.” The sheer beauty of the passing seasons can provide us with a chance to be awestruck. Think about the wisdom you’ve gained, the insights you’ve gleaned, the knowledge you possess. Becoming older and wiser is an awe-inspiring part. The natural world offers us sites (the Grand Canyon, and others) with billions of years of geological history. Tap into the feeling of awe you can experience in a historic place (a path of timeless footsteps).

7. Awe from Gratitude

The practice of gratitude is closely linked to our ability to feel awestruck. Make a habit of looking out for the good in your life; it develops our innate ability to experience more awe. Make a habit of becoming truly grateful for our bodies; it can allow deep feelings of awe to emerge. You will always find people who are helping. Feel a deep sense of awe for the kindness, compassion, and love. Express thanks (in any form) to people toward whom you experience a deep sense of awe for their ability to change your life for the better. When we appreciate life’s gifts (even the small things usually taken for granted) with gratitude, we become infused with a sense of awestruck gratefulness. When we make a deliberate effort to track and cherish the many good parts of our lives, it can leave us feeling awestruck.

8. Awe through Habit

Relive moments of awe from your past, fully savoring the feelings of being awestruck. When we break our routine (new places, scenic routes, ways, etc.) and pay attention to what happens, we can find opportunities for awe all around us. Watch something (movies, animated/documentary series, YouTube videos, etc.) awe-inspiring. Bring awe to work (a short walk to see the sky and the trees, glancing at awe-inspiring images, remembering moments of awe from the past, etc.) Stretch your comfort zone, and awe will wait for you around the corner. Capture moments of awe, build an “awe portfolio” (memories, images, artwork, books, movies, etc.). Pay a few moments of attention to them each week/day. Journaling about awe experiences helps us reap the same benefits of actually experiencing awe. Seek out small adventures.

9. Awe through Social Connection

As you reflect on how your actions flow outward, creating a cascade of goodness around you (ripple effects), you may experience a feeling of awe. The experience of awe by other people can be inspiring and even contagious to us. Find awe in everyday life through the eyes of a child (childlike lens). You can also use movies and books for this purpose. Share stories of awe and listen as others in your life do the same. Love is mystical, magical, and awe-inspiring. Allow yourself to be awestruck by our ability to love, and to be loved, in whatever form it may take. Allow yourself to feel awestruck by the wonder of shared experience (religious gathering, a classical music performance, etc.).

10. Awe from Creativity and the Arts

Beauty will save the world (Fyodor Dostoevsky). Art can leave us awestruck. Make time to enjoy the arts in their various forms, as art can be a powerful muse for wonder, amazement, and awe. Experiences of awe through music are so powerful – it’s something so innate, so primal, that it defies description. Feel awestruck through architectural wonders that reflect the ingenuity of the human spirit. The artistic mind is amazing and may inspire awe. Consider exploring the ways that you might connect with experiences of awe in a creative way (painting, photographing, writing, etc.).

Wisdom Begins in Wonder (Socrates)

In a modern world often marked by consumerism, experiencing awe has been shown to align us with more meaningful values.

This article is based on the book Awestruck by Jonah Paquette, PsyD., and works of other authors, including Andrew’s own experience and thoughts.

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