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Awe - Gratitude’s Sister

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"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein

Gratitude has long been regarded as an emotion that with cultivation improves our mood, health, and ability to be more open-hearted and present.  Practices that nourish and enrich gratitude open our lives to the honey of the heart and the sweetness of life.  Many have used gratitude journals or a daily focus on gratitude to uplift and center themselves. 


Awe is another emotion that can lead to perspective change and uplift mood.  Awe is gratitude’s sister, and often confused with her sister as feelings of awe and wonder can also evoke gratitude.  Awe is a fundamental human emotion.  It has a similar effect as gratitude of opening the heart and softening the ego mind that often constricts our ability to be present. 


Awe can be described as a feeling of overwhelming wonder, profound reverential respect often inspired by the sacred or the sublime, and sometimes mixed with a dash of fear.  Awe engenders feelings of connection to something larger than us, it gives us a taste of our smallness in the presence of a deeper mystery.  Awe is the perception of something bigger than us and that we are part of that something.  


When we are in awe, our mind-body system changes.  Research shows that our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, our pro-social behaviors increase and our need for cognitive control decreases.  Our neuronal network is poised for creative and divergent thinking, and we are wonderfully more comfortable with uncertainty.  Studies have shown that after experiencing awe, we are more likely to be generous and helpful to others, as well as take risks we would not normally take, encouraged by trusting our place in something much bigger.


Awe is a both a cornerstone of a spiritual life and of scientific inquiry.  It keeps us humble, curious, and open to possibility beyond our known perceptions, and to question our experiences and investigate “why?” and “why not?”.  Afterall, our human senses perceive only .0001% of the information in the world.  This connection to vastness and mystery helps deconstruct our ego mind.  Perhaps when the picture is too far beyond our capacity to stretch, fear prevails and we start operating out of fear rather than wonder.  Our ego mind can become fixed, locked into loops of negativity and caught in illusions of control as it “manages” its nemesis – uncertainty.  Regular doses of awe can be the antidote to mental rigidity and helps to keep us flexible and open.


Moments of awe happen throughout our lives.  Our interpretation of these moments become part of the facia holding our belief systems together.  They can be immensely transformational experiences peppered throughout life, or part of a daily spiritual practice that nourishes and sustains a deeper trust and connection to the mysterious.  Cultivating and curating experiences of awe can indeed enhance a sense of trust, presence and connection.


Small things can be done daily to cultivate feelings of awe and connection to the mysterious.  Simply remembering a time when you experienced wonder and awe can reactivate the whole experience in your mind and body.  Add to your visual and auditory consumption things that inspire and bring feelings of wonder.  Take a walk in nature with a mindful awareness of sights and sounds.  Lay under a star-filled night-sky or watch the sunset.  Stay open to the numinous, to synchronicity and to times when the inner and the outer world play the same note and ring in your heart.  Some call its kismet.  Others call it magic.  At the very least these are moments of awe that are available to us and can transform our lives.


Expect magic. Entertain the mystical.  Dance in wonder. 


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