Awe has the power to move the soul and increase quality of life. But for that to happen, one needs to become more aware of one’s surroundings
Some days I run at dawn, some days I run at sundown. I love this time of the day because for me it’s a reminder how beautiful our world is. Against all the chaos and drama of everyday living, against the political and economic predicaments, the challenges we might have faced and lost, against just about anything, the beauty of our world can never be undermined.
I watch in awe as the perfect settings for the sunrise unfold. A violet sky teases with a few star sparkling, gently embracing shades of orange before the ball of fire rolls in. I hear the birds singing and chirping as the first rays hit the earth, and I wonder ‘have they figured the specialness of this moment?’
In fact the famous mystic and poet Rumi reminisces – ‘The early morning breeze whispers secrets to you. Be awake and listen.’
I am a sucker for natural beauty and more often than not I will take a road less travelled if I can see
the open fields through palm-fringed roads.
We all have these moments when we are simply mesmerised beyond our imagination. Instants such as the awareness of the vast sea, the strength of the cascading waterfall and the winds of a storm, the stillness of the reflection in a lake or the softness of an infant cuddling against the warmth of the mother’s body, the majestic view of a mountain or the piercing nature of a melody, all tug at our soul. Moments like these transcend our fragile ego to go beyond our existing conditioning and be totally immersed in the now. Time eludes us and we whisper ‘wow’ and like the birds chirping, a poem may escape
our lips with sonnets
That is when you know that you are in an ‘awe moment’.
The feeling of awe is when all your sensory perceptions get directed to a natural phenomenon. Every day, all around us are such moments awaiting our discovery. These connections to beautiful instances are no mistakes. They have a purpose and should be consciously included in one’s routine.
New research is showing us that this rather complex emotion – awe – is good for us on many counts. It helps us with critical thinking, creative expression, improved health and a feeling of centeredness. This emotion is a reminder of our infinity and smallness.
We are like a grain of sand in this expansive universe and yet this infinity lives through us. Such realisation enhances pro-social behaviours like expressions of kindness, cooperation and resource management.
So what is awe? Keltner and Haidt, who are pioneers of research in awe, define awe as the sensation of being in the presence of something vast that transcends one’s
understanding of the world and straddles the boundaries of pleasure and fear. Awe encourages us to step outside our ego boundary and re-look at our conditioning.
Awe creates a self that is immersed in the now, where all negativity, anxiety, self-consciousness, self-interest and material longing disappear.
You don’t need an extraordinary event to evoke the feeling of awe. There is a misconception that for one to experience awe you need to be isolated, meditate or not have everyday quandaries to bother you.
Well that is not true. The University of Berkeley has conducted studies which conclude that experiences of awe are found in abundance in our in daily life.
The benefits of awe happen because the feeling calms the mind beyond happiness. You begin to feel the connection between with the rest of your world (both social and physical) and a new sense of self develops. The acts of generosity, compassion and selflessness begin to develop automatically and calm the mind and diminish feelings of egocentricity and selfishness.
During an ‘awe moment’ of understanding immunity is enhanced. The parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and calms bodily reactions to stress responses. In fact awe can help break patterns of negative thinking. Awe helps bring a fresh perspective to old patterns of thought and enhances mental clarity.
Awe has the power to move the soul and increase quality of life. But for that to happen, one needs to become more aware of one’s surroundings. Unfortunately we fall prey to technological devices which eat into our time of being in nature. Our kids have become slaves to an artificial reality. From the kind of education they get to the type of hobbies they engage in, an awe experience gets completely left out.
We need to give our children and ourselves a little of ‘awe time’ every day. It’s not a difficult task to accomplish. All you need to do is direct your attention to the world around you. Maybe include a sunrise or a sunset or take a walk out in the night and get mesmerised by the star-lit sky and let some awe wash over you.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)