“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” -Albert Einstein
My husband’s emotional voice proclaimed “It’s a girl!” And there she was. One moment she wasn’t there, and the next moment she was, breathing and crying and flapping her tiny arms. This profound sense of awe — mixed with exhaustion — was one neither of us will ever forget. How did this happen? We made her. She is a person. I still get chills when I ponder it.
A natural high
Over four million people visit Grand Canyon National Park, and over three million visit Yosemite National Park each year. Why? Many behavioral psychologists have concluded that there is something in our mental makeup that benefits from seeing ourselves as infinitesimal in a much greater world, but not apart from that world — connected to it. We become a small part of something much bigger than ourselves. Awe inspires us to feel grounded, challenges our day-to-day sense of reality and allows us to contemplate larger universal concepts like time. Time seems to expand in the midst of awe. (1) A gorgeous night sky, a vast panorama of 100 year old trees or the mighty Pacific are all more than something pretty to look at. They are necessary food for our perspectives as human beings.
The power of mystery
In researching awe, what inspires it, and what results from it, I came across the same three areas of discussion: nature, science and religion. It seems that this profound sense of awe both originates from these areas of life, and then in turn, inspires us to delve deeper into them. A sense of mystery and amazed wonder have led the Carl Sagans and thousands of other scientists to explain, or at least understand on a deeper level, occurrences in the natural world. The incredible size and majesty of Everest has inspired a shocking number of humans to attempt to climb her, and even die trying. A deep belief in an awe-inspiring God has motivated the majority of humans to do both amazing feats of love and horrific acts of harm. We are moved by awe. We need to feed the core of our beings on a regular basis with a healthy amount of awe. It is something we all share, no matter our gender, age, or ethnicity. Feeling awe is an occasional reminder that we are not the center of the universe. We learn that as children, but it’s so easy to forget when getting caught up in the day to day logistics of life. (2)
Okay, Team … here is where I have to sound preachy. There is just no way around it. Get out there and find something that moves you. This challenge is so easy, and yet so essential to you as a human. No matter where you are, there is something near you in the natural world that would inspire awe, if you give it your attention. Or if that isn’t readily available today, how about streaming a show tonight like Cosmos, or BBC’s Earthflight (3), or Planet Earth (4)? Or maybe you have a young life form of your own that you can marvel at as she sleeps. Seek out your awe today. It’s all around you for the taking.
- Shiota ML. What is the Purpose of Awe? Slate.com. Accessed Jan 12, 2017.
- Lombrozo T. Awe, With and Without the Gods. NPR. Sept 8, 2014. Accessed Jan 12, 2017.
- BBC’s Earthflight. YouTube Feb 8, 2012. Accessed Jan 14, 2017.
- Planet Earth. BBC. Accessed Jan 14, 2017.