Fueling the Better Angels of Our Natures: Awe

Aug 18, 2017

One of the most interesting and uplifting findings around living a long, joyful, healthy life is the power of awe: putting ourselves in the presence of whatever inspires us with awe on a regular basis and then allowing ourselves to become not only curious, but overwhelmed with wonder, reverence, and admiration. The world is filled with millions of moments and things that could inspire awe in us, but it requires that we develop the habit to notice, to pause, to soak it in, and allow ourselves to be fascinated or overcome with interest, beauty, love. Most of us aren’t very good at awe: we are too much mired in the busy rut, rather than the scenic route, of life.

I was deeply blessed growing up to have an amazing “awe guide” in my Grandmother Lipford: a week still does not go by that I am not reminded of or re-inspired by some teaching or insight which she so gently offered me across my youth and young adulthood. As a result of spending time with her, I am skilled at noticing and becoming awestruck with everyday beauty. I am

  • fascinated by the intricacy of insects, mosses, bark, leaves, and flowers in the short walk to my mailbox each day;
  • in reverence of the lost-looking, yet determined, elderly man I pass in the grocery aisle;
  • tickled and reminded of my husband in our youth by the swagger of the teenage boy walking down the street;
  • deeply appreciative of the attention, care, and patience I see caregivers giving to their loved ones, patients, or clients day in and day out;
  • or mesmerized by the eyelashes on every sleeping baby’s cheek.

In this disturbing time in our country, in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville, multiplied by the reaction of our standing US President, I notice people determinedly watching and reading social media and news outlets, or withdrawing from them all, while feeling overwhelmed with fear, anguish and dread. We are horrified, in a state of awe and disbelief at what we are seeing and hearing about our fellow man, our fellow Americans.  Yet I believe that most of us long to make a difference, to help our families, our communities, our society change into a better vision of ourselves, rather than see one another as the enemy. Fear closes us down to our dreams and filters our view of the options.

We tend to think of being awestruck as something positive, something wonderful: sunsets and sunrises, the birth of a baby, the love between a long-married couple, the beauty of a well-tended garden, magnificent architecture. But, the most ancient meaning of awe, from the Norse, was fright and terror.

Being awestruck by fright, terror, and horror has done its work. It has awakened sleeping hearts, shaken many of us out of our complacency. Now we need healing responses:

  • to notice and attend to what is good and true,
  • to dream and vision what is possible,
  • to strategize practical action.

Because reaction without vision more often leads to unintended pain and sorrow.

One way to open ourselves to healing, helpful inspiration of what is possible; to make ourselves receptive to more creative solutions and practical action; to ignite, fuel and nurture our visions, is to make space in our lives to be awestruck by beauty in any of its many forms.

I offer a practice I learned many years ago from writer, poet, and educator Georgia Heard that she calls “Fall in Love at Least Three Times a Day” in her book Writing Toward Home. She suggests that you intend to fall in love at least three times a day for a week, taking a few minutes to describe each in full. The act of pausing and writing, even at some point later in the day, to truly describe in a few phrases or sentences what you fell in love with expands the experience and will enlarge your heart and open the flow of creative ideas and possibilities in other areas of your life. There is no wrong or right way to do it. Just write what you notice, what draws your attention.

If the writing seems too much for you at first, then take a picture to look at it later so that you can revisit and amplify the feelings of love and awe.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

                                                                                                             ~ President Abraham Lincoln



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