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No greater authority than Mr. Spock, of StarTrek fame, who had impeccable logic, on occasion would utter the word— Fascinating.

He was in the moment lost by any logical means to express himself. Yet note the power of this word and the depth of meaning for Spock. Something is beyond his comprehension. Other words of expression he might have chosen to convey this overwhelming experience could have been, “what-the-hell,” mercy, incredible amazing, fantastic, awesome, OMG, or “really.”

In a new book by the Berkeley-based psychologist and director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center Dacher Keltner, he delves into the illusive emotion and suggests its role in insight, mindfulness, and creativity. Here is what Roshi Joan Halifax says about the book:

This extraordinary book explores the power of awe and amazement in our life and in our world.

It reveals the gift of awe from the perspective of science, the self and society.

Written with passion and clarity it is a book that itself

nourishes awe and turns us toward our lives

with fresh eyes and an open heart.

The underlining above is mine. A gift that nourishes my perspective and to explore IT, I turn to the cartoons in the 1950. I’m referring to the outlandish caricatures where eyes pop out of the head, cartoons twist and turn, and elaborate accents are used. I recall a genre of a goofy looking teenage boy being smitten by a beautiful girl and while looking at her with googly eyes she turns to him and says…”good morning Clem to which he seems to blush, look down, shuffle his feet and say the memorable words…’Aw Shucks.’” A moment has exploded! Everything has fallen away and then in recovery it is underlined– shucks. Shucks is being caught not knowing what just happened. We do something similar when slipping and falling on the icy sidewalk we smile and say I’m alright. Kelter points out (p.243) one Japanese word for self, jibun, means “shared life space.” My take is a lancet to the heart or intimacy. It is overwhelmingly dropping away from the illusion of body and mind, we are thrown headlong from the boat into “the other shore.”

In an article entitled: Zen and the Art of Awe, Neil Farber looks at the application of awe as alluded to by Joan Halifax- as a gift that nourishes. It is like we use the phrase Zen in Everyday Life to connote constant awareness of life- in full!

Here are the points for our discussion Tuesday night October 10 (my daughter’s birthday), 2023, at the First Congregational Church of Falmouth and on Zoom at password FSZS, starting at 7:00PM/ET, the underling is mine:

  1. It promotes cognitive changes that reduce reliance on existing knowledge and assumptions, which we often use as shortcuts when perceiving the world around us. For example, while most positive emotions increase our reliance on “internal scripts” in attending to commonly occurring events (such as going out to a romantic dinner), Shiota and recent lab graduate Alex Danvers have shown that awe has the opposite effect. This means that experiencing awe helps us encode and process new information from the environment, rather than seeing only what is familiar and expected (4). The effect is somewhat like mindfulness, helping us to process novel stimuli from the environment with an open, non-judgmental mind. The implications for this research are far-reaching and ground-breaking.

  2. It facilitates physiological alterations that soothe and relax the body, as well as the mind (5).

  3. It increases curiosity. Awe enhances our ability and desire to take in novel information from the environment. It is thus associated with increasing curiosity and having a greater desire to explore.

  4. It brings people together. In appreciating the vastness of an experience, we realize that we are part of a bigger picture(3). In doing so, me becomes we. Awe inspires collaboration and cohesiveness.

  5. It promotes mindfulness. Unlike fear or excitement, which cause an adrenaline rush and lead to running away from or toward the stimulus (“fight or flight”), an awe response is associated with stillness and attentiveness. This state of mind makes us more open to new information, and more receptive and situationally aware. Awe experiences, more so than other positive emotions, have also been shown to make people feel like time is expanded; you feel like you have more available time (6).

  6. It makes us nicer. As we’ve all experienced, during times of awe, the self dissolves; it is bigger than us. What does this mean in the big scheme of things? Professor Paul Piff of UC Irvine has shown that this awe-induced small-self feeling is associated with increased ethical decision-making, generosity, prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement (7). People who experience awe more often are also more likely to give to strangers. As Professor Piff has stated, “awe arouses altruism.”

  7. It improves physical health. Interleukin 6 (IL6) is an inflammatory marker associated with stress, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Research from Professor Jennifer Stellar at the University of Toronto (8) has shown that people who report more frequent positive emotions have lower levels of IL6, and of all positive emotions tested, awe is the strongest predictor of this effect. As these studies documented correlations, not necessarily causal effects, it remains possible that those with greater health and less stress were better able to experience positive emotions including moments of awe. However, the association is strong enough to suggest that frequent experience of awe may help improve physical health as well as mental well-being.

  8. It enhances creativity. Awe increases both flexibility and our ability to see things from new perspectives; both associated with being more creative. There are endless examples of awe-inspired poems, love sonnets, paintings, and novels.

  9. It inspires hope. While awe is not always easily accessible, it is always present and available. Knowing that we are at all times surrounded by the potential for awe in natural phenomena can be an incredible positive motivation and pick me up during down times.

  10. It causes happiness. While awe is at times accompanied by some degree of fear, the majority of awe experiences are associated with positive affective states. The concomitant benefits of curiosity, creativity, flexibility, hope, mindfulness, as well physical, psychological and spiritual health can’t help but lead to great happiness!

Please join in as we explore Awe and maybe “Shucks” too…

108 Bows,


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