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“Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”

Albert Einstein

Is your system set up for experiencing awe?

Do you have awe moments? Moments of absolute zoom out, where you disappear and there is the sense of space, wonder, grace? This is a mode which is totally expansive, where we have no concerns and are not even aware that worry exists! A mode of floating into the collective, indescribable magic. These are truly transcendent moments. We transcend our little self experience.

I know when awe is not able to enter me, to take me over. When there is no crack, no opening for awe to enter. As Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

When I have had a big day with work and driving, there is not a chance of awe. All I want to do when I get home is eat and watch something on television that requires nothing of me, ideally with a good story line.

When I am stressed, not a chance; it is all about me and my task. I am in a bind with the moment.

When I am focused on learning something new, and really concentrating, not a chance.

When I am distracted, not a chance.

But the display of a grand, unselfish heart, the morning sun kissing leaves, the view from Mount Tomaree, Handel: Rinaldo, HWV 7a – Lascia ch’io pianga (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exlyq70RGwQ) – grand music, a line of prose or poetry, the vastness in landscape, they can all bring us to our knees. When the heart is open, we can allow the truth of miracle to enter.

When I walk in the morning I often play with walking without a story, without being a ‘me’. This is when the light can get in, when awe can get in.

The John Templeton Foundation commissioned a white paper reviewing more than 75 studies to identify the key ingredients in awe. It concluded that there were two elements. One was a sense of vastness, of expansiveness, and the other that the experience evokes a “need for accommodation”. As awe is grander than our conventional way of understanding things, the experience demands of us something more, an expansion in our understanding of the world and beyond. 

Both of these elements bring a sense of personal insignificance, or self-diminishment while at the same time a feeling of being at one with everything around us. This is not to be confused with self-effacing or diminishing self in an interpersonal context. This is a different realm. When entering into awe, we enter into the “non dual”, while the realm of the interpersonal is the “dual” world. In the awe experience there is a no duality, no this and that, no here and there, no me and them, there is just “this”, or “is-ness”.

There is in Buddhism an old saying: “The more self, the more suffering”. Perhaps we can extrapolate: “The more me, the less awe”.

The more stressed, the more tired, the more distracted, the more we ruminate, the more we are just in the “me” experience.

That means to be open to awe we need to dial down the “me” experience, the “me” focus. Mindfulness is one of the ways we can do that. Right now, just close the eyes and focus on the sensations in the hands. Allow the fingers to touch, and notice the sensation of that. There is no “me” in that experience. Just sensation. If you then do “Dear Body”, hand on heart, while you whisper “dear body”, then you might notice that it takes you through the body into vastness. Like you are using the back door to vastness and potentially awe. The front door is the world, the back door is inner sensory experience, without the narrative, the narrative being the self. In this way stillness also becomes the platform for awe to land within us.

We could call the experience of awe spiritual without a specific God focus, just sensing that there is something much larger than ourselves, something larger than me and my to-do-list for today, than me and my worries. When we enter into awe we perhaps touch truth. We perhaps realise that we spend most of our time being lost in the experience of being a little human. However, our essence is consciousness, and we experience it when we can still the human within us, even just for a moment.

Dr Lisa Miller refers to Dr Kendler’s research on spirituality in relation to depression which found that adolescents were 35-75% less likely to experience clinical depression when they had personal spiritual experiences. When we have a spiritual life, we are simply less likely to be depressed. The experience of both depression and anxiety is of course a relentless spin around “me”. Kendler also found that a spiritual life is a buffer against stress and helps us navigate experiences like divorce, loss, or illness. Kendler also found that it buffs us against addiction. Perhaps because a full heart does not yearn?

Lisa Miller in her book “The Awakened Brain”, says that we all have an awakened brain circuit, the circuit responsible for experiencing awe. When this circuit is activated, it brings with it perceptual capacities of love, unity, connection, reassurance and guidance.

And here is the final little gift. When our brain is in the experience of the Awakened, it is integrated, it is in ultimate health.

I don’t think I need to do “Five points for finding awe”. It is clear, right? Cultivate the ability by keeping a sense of the big picture, dialling down how much you get lost in you and your world. Spend time alone in nature, listen to grand music, be still and listen. Or just whisper “dear body”.

With love

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