I feel in awe when I swim in the ocean. I am in awe when I climb to the top of a hill and take in the vista. Or when the sun rises and sets in all it's glory. When I see a creature unlike anything I've seen before, or receive kindness from a stranger. When I look at my daughter as she sleeps, it takes my breath away.
Awe is a unique emotion that has possibly evolved in humans because it encourages us to take in new information and adjust our mental structures and perspectives around it.
Feelings of awe can be accompanied by heart rate changes, goosebumps, and the sensation of chills, and there is some evidence that awe may even decrease markers of chronic inflammation.
Studies have shown that awe makes us feel more connected with others which increases our kindness and generosity to others. It's been shown to create a diminished sense of self and also seems to change our perception of time, increase positive mood and decrease materialism. Research has also suggested that awe may increase spiritual and religious feelings. Awe is a childlike quality, a sense of wonder an openness to what we don't yet understand.
Awe plays a role in both incremental desirable improvements as well as potential personal breakthroughs in life. I know that by the time I climb to the top of a hill and look down at the valley I will feel on top of the world - that's awe. Or when I spot a trigger fish guarding her nest at the bottom of the sea, the strange feeling of wonder at her beauty and fear of her fierceness to protect her young - feels awesome. Yoga has taught me to be in awe of my body, a damn amazing machine. It's been through a lot, survived against the odds and it still copes with many of my demands.
The more I live in awe of the world around me, the more I gain a perspective on the small niggles in life that wear us down. Awe doesn't solve problems or make them go away, it creates perspective so that I'm no longer overwhelmed. For example, when I think about the fact that we are living on a big rock, spinning at approximately 1,100 mph and flying around the sun at 67,000 mph. A sun so hot that we can feel it's warmth on our skin, the miserable neighbour down the road is suddenly not such an issue.
Awe reminds us that we have one precious life on this earth. It is natures gift to us bringing wonder and perspective to our lives. In the absence or not of a belief in a divinity, awe helps us to appreciate the world around us and to find gratitude even as we endure times of struggle. Awe can change our mindset in a heartbeat and is one sure way to help us to rise above the everyday humdrum.
Einstein wrote "He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." So I open my eyes and I live in awe.