Awestruck

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Last week, Cindy Fabico (co-owner of Life Skills Resource Group), referred me to a Psychology Today article titled, “It’s Not All About You!” by Carlin Flora. Cindy suggested that I read it because she was so impressed and enlightened by its message, that she felt compelled to share it with others.

I have to admit, when I first read the title, what came to my mind was not exactly what was to follow. Without any idea as to what “It’s Not All About You!” was about, I figured it would have something to do with realizing that not everything revolves around you… and essentially, that IS the moral of the story… but, Carlin takes this message into such depth, that it ends up being one that you won’t just spend a few minutes thinking about and then forget. The amount of detail, and the intellectual thought process that went into developing and relaying this message encourages its readers to really contemplate life as we know it, and to understand how little we really are in such a bigger picture.

Now, this probably doesn’t sound too uplifting, as a matter of fact, it may even come off as an insult to our level of relevance in life. But, hear me out, that is not what this article is expressing to us…

Carlin begins “It’s Not All About You!” by talking about a man named Michio Kaku. Michio is now a theoretical physicist, a science popularizer, and one of the originators of the String Field Theory. In case you are unfamiliar with what the String Field Theory is (as I was before reading this article), it is a theory which hypothesizes “the existence of multiple universes and unknown dimensions, as well as one-dimensional extended objects known as strings”. So, what prompts a person to come up with such a profound theory? Surely he didn’t wake up one day and just decide that this was so. No- rather, this mindset all stemmed from his teacher informing him of the death of Albert Einstein, when Michio was only eight years old. After hearing the news, Michio decided that he would set out to expand on the work of Einstein; which is exactly what he did with the String Field Theory.

Michio’s epiphany at 8 years old is still the driving force that motivates him to get through challenging problems, when he feels inclined to give up. Michio explains a concept known as “Awe”. To the best of his explanation, awe is, “our drive to seek out beauty in the universe [that] has allowed humans to probe its most puzzling questions”.

Michio acknowledges that we, as humans, are hardwired to be selfish at times. For example, when we are hurting, or feeling emotionally drained, it is normal for us to feel that this is a huge deal; and, to focus our concerns only on our current situation. BUT, when awe comes in, it’s reminds us that we are such a small part of such a larger picture. There is so much more than just you and your experiences; than you and your troubles. Awe, to him, is recognizing that “my problems are so trivial compared to the majesty of the night sky”. Meaning, yes I have things going on, but in the grand scheme of things, they are such minimal affects to the overall meaning of life.

Carlin also brought up two other professionals and their views on awe. Robert Leahy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, sees awe as a “cousin” to appreciation and gratitude, and author, Richard Louv, describes nature as being an awe evoking environment.

 “It’s crawling out to the edge of the grass, listening to the wind and the trees, turning over a rock, and realizing that you’re not alone in the world.

He describes awe as being “truly alive”.

What all of these explanations, and perceptions on the concept of “awe” have in common, is that it is something so beyond our grasp of comprehension and understanding; it is something almost majestic. Awe is something that almost takes us outside of ourselves, to look beyond what we are and what we know, and see things for so much more than we normally do without thinking otherwise. Awe compels us to view the world, the universe, as the bigger picture- that we are merely just a splash of color in. Important, nonetheless, because we help complete the picture- but we are not the whole picture.

Research has been done on the benefits of experiencing awe. The operational definition for experiencing awe was described as ,“losing yourself in something or someone else”. It is expressed that awe is the opposite of rumination– and, rumination is the biggest predictor or depression and anxiety. Experiments suggest that people who live in more rural/suburban areas have more experiences of awe, because of their enhanced level of exposure to nature and other living creatures. Studies have also suggested that people who live in more urban areas are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and suffer from other mental illnesses. The connection between nature and well-being is so strong, that even if someone just watches videos of nature or views photographs of it, greater attention spans and less mental fatigue are found.

 “When the constant buzzing of ‘me, me, me’ recedes, might we become sensitive to loftier principles. Could awe make us better citizens?”

This quote focuses on an interesting point. How could being less egocentric, make you a better person? Well, research has found that individuals who ranked high in dispositional awe were more likely to consider themselves a part of a larger group, and put less focus on personal problems. This allows them to consider others, and ALSO diminish a good amount of stress and anxiety from their minds, in respect to their individual “problems”.

This tendency to see their own problems as less demanding/traumatizing, isn’t a sign of delusion or denial… rather these people are acknowledging that their problems exist, but in the grand scheme of things, their problems are not EVERYTHING. People with this mindset scored as less selfish, and more generous in 5 studies that were done with an awe inspired group and a control group. This concept is something coined the “small self state” by researchers in this field. This “small self” is when your sense of your issues taking precedence over everything else in life becomes diminished, and you are more aware of being a small part of a greater thing. Evolutionary psychologist explain this phenomenon by stating that people in the past who were more in touch with their environmental surroundings: landscapes, animals, and water- were more likely to survive.

 Louv: “we need to bring nature into our lives, not only to slow down the biodiversity collapse, but to make ourselves healthier- mentally, physically, spiritually.

So, what can we take from this? One thing I walked away from this article with was that… yes, I believe my problems are real, and it’s okay (and normal) to acknowledge them- but, in the big picture, that is life, there is so much MORE than just me and my problems. Thinking this way honestly helps you take a step down from your worries, and appreciate all of the good things in your life, and all of the wonderful and unknowns that life has to offer. So, although maybe something isn’t going as planned, maybe the universe has a plan for you that’s much greater than you could have ever conceived on your own.

Now, you may also be wondering, “how does any of this tie into counseling…?” Well, really, how doesn’t it?! As Carlin quoted, author Daniel Smith, in her article, “therapy helps us accept reality, and awe is a component of reality: It’s a way to remove the tyranny of the ego”. In other words, experiencing awe allows us to take a step out of our own version of reality, into the real world; to take a step outside of ourselves, our wants, our needs, our desires, and just experience without any ulterior motives or expectations. We are thoroughly able to live in the moment and see life for all of the beauty it has to offer us.

 

– Virginia Johnson

 

Are you struggling with practicing gratitude, focusing too much on the negatives, or are you just interested in talking to someone about things going on in your life because you simply feel that you do not  as you should? Sometimes having a partner in your journey can help. Give us a call  to set up a free phone consultation at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378, and one of our Orlando Individual Counselors, Orlando Life Coaches, Orlando Teen Counselors, and Orlando Child counselors would be more than happy to help you, a family member, or a friend work on changing your life.

Virginia