Searching for Awe-Filled Moments and Finding Them in the Midst of my Day-to-Day Mundane Experiences
This month, awe showed me that it is not only present in the breathtaking landscape of South Dakota or the miraculous healing of my dog’s luxated hip, but that it is also present in the midst of my day-to-day life. All I need to do is allow myself to see and experience it.
Late one afternoon I was working at my desk, fully immersed in getting the needed things done. I wasn’t looking for awe. I definitely didn’t expect it to show up in my work space, but there it was in the form of a rainbow prism of light splashing across my desk. At first, I found myself searching for the source of the refraction, before allowing myself to just experience the colors and the feeling they brought me.
Then there was the moment I let the dogs out to pee, and instead of rushing back inside to busy myself with some task that I felt I needed to mark off of my to-do list, I allowed myself to linger in the afternoon sun while the dogs went about their business. That lingering brought me into the presence of a female cardinal camouflaged in a bush. She tilted her head and her orangish-red bill moved with her, revealing her to me, along with that beautiful feeling of ahhhh. Or, awe.
Awe can be in anything that appeals to my senses or knocks me out of my routines and mundane patterns. Awe says, “Hey look at this, listen to this, acknowledge this — feel this.” It is an invitation for me to slow down and come back to the present moment, to experience the world mindfully.
We hear a lot about gratitude and the benefits of cultivating gratitude, but the newly researched benefits of cultivating awe are lesser known. In my geek-out over awe research, I found the Greater Good Science Center, which is housed at Berkley. The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being.” And guess what?
Awe is one of GGSC’s keys to well-being.
Dacher Keltner of the GGSC states that the emotion of awe has a powerful effect on our nervous system. Dopamine, the feel-good chemical that is naturally produced in our brains when we experience pleasure, is also released when we experience awe. I was amazed to learn that awe is the only emotion that scientifically works in our bodies to decrease disease- inducing inflammation receptors.
Keltner and his team have not only studied the health benefits of awe, they’ve taken a deep look into awe and its origins. In the beginning, awe was considered mostly a religious, spiritual emotion, but over time awe research participants have reported finding it in a wide variety of locations, foods, music, art, and words.
When I stop to think about it, I too find awe in diverse experiences. South Dakota was a location that struck a chord of awe within me. I also remember finding awe in Ben Long’s Frescoes. And there are multiple times I’ve wanted to return to the experience of a certain food or meal that combined spices and flavors in a way I had never encountered before.
Awe has also long been present in song lyrics that touch something inside of me, or a podcast that opens my heart to a new expansive perspective, or even when a passage in a book causes me to pause and return to it again and again, exploring why those words, strung together in that order, created pause within me.
Awe is available to you and me, even in the midst of our day-to-day lives.
It is a choice, beckoning us to come, look, listen, and experience the magical and mystical within familiar locations and routines.
Awe can be a dance with the known, the mundane and routine, or the unplanned and unexpected – sometimes even with fear.
I hope you will accept the invitation from awe to embark on a deeper conversation with life. Instead of just racing to finish another task or get something else done, I hope you will accept the invitation to stop, pause, and fully breathe in the awe-filled moments and experiences all around you.
There’s beauty waiting to be discovered. Are you going to take the time to look?