Awe and the Ordinary

Author’s Note ~ Slow Road Home:

I know this from my photographer’s experience: any image I take is one of a kind. Each composition in light or in words is unique. The light will never be that color from that angle on that exact configuration of barn, tree or wildflower ever again.

And this: that we too often take for granted the extraordinary senses of vision and hearing, touch and smell that are our gifts– opportunities given us by which we could know the familiar beauties too often missed or dismissed in our hurried lives. We have so little time in the present and there is so very much to take in and share.

There are wonders all around. From our everyday lives, these familiar things may seem unremarkable to us. But in these precious instants in time, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts ready to know it, there is nothing ordinary.

This topic could, and maybe will, become a too-long-didn’t-read essay someday, since it is AWE that might have been the single strongest driver over the 17 years of my writing life–to expect it, to search for it, to nurture it, and to understand its implications for the good it can do towards keeping one’s eyes and mind open to the largeness and wonder of the every-day fragments that make up our lives.

There is much to say about the gift and experience of awe. And much of it is said in this recent research study on the subject that is so underlined in yellow marker on my copy that WHY BOTHER?

Why scientists say experiencing awe can help you live your best life

For all but a few who will actually read the article, here are some selections that describe the human experience of awe and its consequences:

” the emotion we feel in response to something vast that defies our existing frame of reference in one area or another, and leads us to change our perception of that frame of reference.

“It’s how we respond when we see something new or novel that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the world,”

“…One important distinction between awe and other emotions (like inspiration or surprise) is that awe makes us feel small — or feel a sense of “self-diminishment” in science-speak. And that’s good for us, Stellar explains.

Feeling small makes us feel humbled (thereby lessening selfish tendencies like entitlement, arrogance, and narcissism). And feeling small and humbled makes us want to engage with others and feel more connected to others, Gordon adds.“All of that is important for wellbeing,” she says.”

“Other research from Anderson’s group (which he notes is currently undergoing peer review and is not yet published) suggests that more awe-prone people are more curious — as deemed by both themselves and their friends — and that this awe-curiosity duo may bolster academic achievement in grade-school children (as it has been linked to higher self-efficacy, work ethic, and academic performance).”

Think about how the experience of awe, at its best, creates a state of generosity, charity, curiosity and humility so infrequently seen today among our “greatest” public figures.

In a climate of fear; in an inward-focused, self-absorbed view of the world; in a world that is concerned obsessively with me-here-now, there is little place for awe to take us beyond our small worlds and bring us back to more solid grounding, with gratitude and joy, in the places and times of our lives.

Awe is epiphany; the AHA! that gives us perspective. It says YES to the cosmos. Faced with possibilities, it says YES, enter in. The climate of mistrust and deception, of hubris and fear says NO. Build a wall.

Published by

fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

4 thoughts on “Awe and the Ordinary”

  1. Thank you so much for this, Fred. There are those of us who believe what you have written here with our every fiber but who also need frequent help in tuning our awe-detectors. Thank you for being this to me and my family.

  2. A magnificent way to begin the day by reading this awesome article. The world would be better if everyone could be in “awe” of our world and those around us and live in a sense of gratitude. Thank you for this gift to us and may we all “ Stop and Smell the Roses”.

  3. Very political post at the end, which of course I agree with. The rest of the writing was beautiful, even better than your usually excellent prose. Whenever I read about awe, I try to think of when I have felt it. Sadly, I am not sure I am feeling awe, although I love to bask in all aspects of nature, and am so grateful for all the pleasure I feel when I am outdoors.

  4. Trying to play catch-up and glad I caught this! (Had knee surgery on Tues. I found myself a little nostalgic for the old hospital hustle-bustle and was surprised by that! I was treated very well by all my caregivers too.)
    Anyway I love the concept of “awe”!
    I was distressed when the first Gulf War was referred to as “Shock and Awe”. I believe war to be basically banal which is just about as far from awe as one can get. In our current culture, when everything is “awesome “ we’re not paying attention to what actually is. And I’d describe the current climate as banal to the max! Ha! Meds making me chatty.

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