Awe, said the researchers, consists of two qualities: a sense of vastness – something we think to be greater than ourselves – and a need to reconfigure our mind to include this experience. Often, an experience of awe is transformative; we see the world through different lenses.
People in the studies who experienced awe had an expanded sense of time, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, and preferred good experiences over material goods. Awe also aids creativity, gives us hope, makes us more empathetic, and helps us appreciate life.
It was all very good, a very important topic. I needed to get me some of that awe, I thought, and I wondered how I could do this every day in my own life. But something else was getting in the way.
It was the word awesome. It is very hard to get serious about awe when the word awesome is floating about so freely.
Bar patron 1: Hey, dude, you spilled beer on my cell phone.
Bar patron 2: Awesome!
Teenager to friend: Shudda seen the awesome zit on my face this morning. I squeezed it. Yuk.
Teenybopper: I was like shopping in like Forever21 ...
BFF: like, awesome! ...
Teenybopper: yeah, cool, and I saw like the most awesome leggings, and like, I bought ‘em.
There’s a website called www.1000awesomethings.com that posts a new AWESOME thing every day, and invites readers to add to the list. Things like #951: hearing a stranger fart in public (catching a business man doing the deed while riding an express elevator to the 98th floor is the most TOTALLY awesome; he can't hide!) and #871: finding out that your birthday will be on a Friday or Saturday. Mine is – this week, even. Awesome!
Oh dear. No wonder there’s a movement afoot to ban the word awesome from the English language. That, and its sister AMAZING, its British cousin BRILLIANT, and baby brother Freakin’ Cool. These are amazingly, awesomely, brilliantly overused words that are no longer freakin’ cool. Are you with me, dude?
|The sign reads: "The campaign to stamp out AWESOME starts here. Please try to restrict usage of this nauseatingly ubiquitous and by now completely meaningless superlative to those of us who are under the age of 12."|
But these delightful experiences, fun as they are, are not the stuff that inspires me to think of transcendence, causing me to rejig my view of the world. For that, I need to slow down, open my eyes, and really, really look at the world. When I sit with my morning coffee, I look outside our dining room window and watch the bees flying in and out of the individual bells of the foxglove flowers. In and out, in and out, collecting food, making their way back to the hive to feed babies they’ll never see. Now that’s awesome.
|The bees wouldn't pose for this picture, but you get the idea!|
I need to lay on my back outdoors on a summer night, far from the city lights, and stare up at the sky, knowing that billions of years ago, stars exploded, creating what I see – and then I remember Joni Mitchell singing, “We are stardust...” We are connected to this vast galaxy, sharing “stuff”. Wow!
|photo courtesy Flickr|
This week, I wish for you, and for me, experiences of awe that fill our souls with wonder.