If you have ever witnessed an amazing sunset, looked up at the stars and imagined the vastness of the universe or simply stood at the base of an immense, magnificent building, you know the feeling of awe — that reverential feeling of amazement ,fear and wonder which comes from realizing that you are but a small part of the immense larger reality which is the universe. Recently, science is reporting just how important the feeling of awe is for our emotional, spiritual, physical and social health. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/why-scientists-say-experiencing-awe-can-help-you-live-your-ncna961826?cid=sm_npd_nn_fb_ma&fbclid=IwAR3KH09m_AYfrV7pDovChuW0sXlmDpAt3aMHSTgEd4dNOl6pDEXyc51cjE4
These findings are ironic, because, over the past decades, psychology has focused on the importance of raising self-esteem and helping folks to feel better (bigger) about themselves. While it is certainly true that low self-esteem is a problem for many, many others suffer from an inability to feel humble or small. Today, starting with our national leaders, selfishness and narcissism have become an even bigger problem than low self esteem.
People of faith have always known and taken comfort from appreciating the beauty of Nature and the grandeur of God’s universe. In the wake of tragedy or pain, regaining the larger picture by remembering and trusting in God’s providence soothes and calms our anxious souls.
Psychologists tell us that the experience of awe helps us to get outside of our own selfish concerns and experience the world from a larger point of view which takes the needs of others into account. Feeling small, but belonging to the larger whole, helps us to acknowledge and accept our mistakes and shortcomings as well as the imperfections of others.
A healthy sense of awe increases our confidence in the universe and helps take some of the worry and weight of having to solve life’s problems off our shoulders. In doing so, it strengthens our immune systems and lowers our stress hormone levels, both of which add to our overall health and sense of well being. Having a sense that we belong to the world’s larger design also provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose. Given that meaninglessness and a sense of having no purpose are major complaints of folks seeking counseling, discovering a sense of awe can be seen as a sign of progress and increased mental health.
Feeling a sense of awe goes along with our ability to feel appreciation and gratitude in our lives. It also increases our desire to get along and work together peaceably. It enhances our ability to be humble and eliminates the need for defensiveness or unnecessary competitiveness.
When is the last time you felt genuine awe ? When was the last time you were struck by the goodness and beauty of the world ? Indeed, when was the last time that you felt that life was meaningful and satisfying ? Of course, there are times when life is difficult and painful loss and tragedy are very real. Yet it is also true that there are times when transcendent moments of truth and reassurance break through whether it is listening to a symphony, seeing a perfect flower or being captivated by the smile on your love’s face.
If it has been too long since you have felt real awe, don’t despair. You can learn to discover something awesome in almost any situation.* To begin:
- Expect to feel awe. Sometimes we are shocked when awe catches us off guard. You may be surprised to find that, if you look for it, you will find that awesome is everywhere.
- Makes a list of awesome times you’ve had in the past. If it has been a while, think about and recall wonderful memories when you felt awe. Where were you? What were you doing ? Who were you with? What was awesome ?
- Spend more time with Nature. Take time to smell the roses. The beauty of nature provides endless opportunities for awe. Take a walk in the park or get to the beach. Spend time in the garden, digging in the earth and watching the flowers grow.
- Spend more time listening to “peak” musical moments or enjoying art. Great music and art have the power to , as James Joyce observed, “arrest the soul” and reveal the beauty of the universe.
- Spend more time with favorite old photos. Pictures have an evocative power to bring back wonderful memories and moments of awe. Taking time to just be with old photos and to immerse yourself in the feelings of fond memories is awesome too.
- Take time to stop and look and listen. Part of the problem of modern life and the scarcity of awe is the simple fact that we are too busy and move too fast. Taking time to go slower and to pay attention to the moment by really looking at and listening and being with everyday moments in our lives can open up an appreciation and gratitude to the awesomeness of everyday life and the larger patterns to which we belong. and of which we are a part.
Life can be tough. Taking time to experience its awesome dimensions is a good way to keep one’s balance. When you are feeling down and it seems that life is meaningless and absurd, look for the awesome and open yourself up to feeling awed.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC
Image Attribution : Michael Heath , Chicago 2016
*If you try some of these suggestions and nothing seems to help, consider talking to a therapist . An absence of awe can be a sign of clinical depression.