We are the center of the universe, aren’t we? From birth on, proud parents, excited friends, and doting grandparents pay attention to us, delighting and fulfilling our every need and desire. We are adorable: our smell, first smile, first tooth, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking. We are the stars of the show! For the next five years, we bathe in glorious attention. Having nothing else to compare to, we are certain that the people around us are at our beck and call.
As we continue to grow, our fairy tale world seems to diminish. “Wait a minute!” we wonder, “What happened to the luxury of the spotlight?” Most of us wish we could remain the center of attention because comfort, predictability, and unconditional love from others make us feel good. Some continue to hold that belief into their tweens (think “spoiled”); others nurse it along well into adulthood (think “self-centered”). Still for others, it remains their truth until they die (think “control artists”). In short, these individuals think that everything that happens is about them. It is personal. Perhaps all of us share a little bit of this tendency. We want to feel important and recognized by someone once in a while. What does that say about human nature?
Our personal world is formed by appearances, statistics, material goods, attitudes, and opinions—all of which are illusions. Illusions and the stories we tell ourselves reflect how we think life should be. Belief in illusions is driven by our senses, yet illusions are but an outer shell. They are not the truth of us. We cling to them, desperately wanting to believe that they are our reality. The truth is that everything continuously changes. We cannot control anything. To remain sane, we must accept the ebb and flow of life. We can certainly influence what happens to us, yet it is a greater energy that has the final say.
“When the constant buzzing of ‘me,’ ‘me,’ ‘me’ recedes, we might become sensitive to loftier principles.” ~Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior, University of California, Irvine; Psychology Today, March/April 2016, “It’s Not All About You” by Carlin Flora, p. 52.
The philosophies of society today—success is about alignment, reputation, and wealth; manipulation is advantageous; and feelings detract from strength—mirror the masks that keep us from knowing our true selves. Suffering follows: inner turmoil; lack of sleep; shorter attention spans; less kindness and generosity; increased stress; perseverance, regardless of its toll; negative thinking that compromises the immune system, paving the way to disease; or unhappiness that can lead to depression or, possibly, a life lost to depression.
Ego takes charge and marshals our thoughts and feelings, making suggestions based on what has worked in the past: “Do this. You need that. Just listen to me; I’ve been taking care of your problems for years.” However, dealing with anxiety and solving existing challenges using the same level of thinking that created them seems unproductive. Why not think and feel on a grander scale? Why not seek “a-ha” moments? Why not open to awe?
“My problems are so trivial compared to the majesty of the night sky.”
“Wonder-as-therapy” is an idea explored by a number of scientists and psychologists in the March/April 2016 Psychology Today publication. Not necessarily new to some, this idea is, nevertheless, an invitation that reminds us to get in touch with our true selves, regardless of where we are in our life cycle. Wonder and awe therapy call us to get out of our own way and to connect with energy outside of us. We take a break, snuggle with a pet, explore nature, think of things that make us feel good, laugh, observe beauty, or focus on our breathing. These activities cancel controlling emotions and demonstrate that we are not alone in our circumstances. We have a friend in the awe business.
As a witness to a growing number of awe-filled recollections, here are my favorites:
- Newborns, my own four and my seven “grands”
- Organ music in a 16th Century cathedral
- A starry night viewed from a hot tub
- Vistas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff
- The growth of weeds in an asphalt parking lot
- Exquisite inner light on the face of a person who has died
Feeling awe is “losing yourself in something or someone else.”
~Robert Leahy, Ph.D; Director, American Institute of Cognitive Therapy.
Awe may appear in any shape, size, color, location, or energy, formed or formless. It may grace us in nature or as a piece in an art gallery or museum. Never knowing exactly how or where awe will inspire us, we know that there is an unlimited supply, our choice to claim. It is a surprise from the universe that offers comfort, predictability, and unconditional love.
“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”
© 2018 in the thick of things