We live in a universe containing really big things, and really little things. I find it mind-bendingly fascinating to think about galaxy clusters, and sub-atomic particles, and to try and contemplate the difference in scale between them. The mind can’t hold such vastness! But it tries, and we call that feeling awe.
Right now, we are experiencing threat from the microbial level. We tend to hyper-focus on perceived sources of danger. When this happens, parts of the brain seen as expendable shut down in order to prioritize safety. The parts we lose are the expansive, reflective, creative parts. Under these conditions, the mind can become a very narrow place.
Thank goodness we have this mode, which kicks in automatically to protect us. But as we necessarily concern ourselves with the unseeable, washing our hands and sanitizing our groceries and keeping our microbes away from each other, we can get into a threatened nervous system state, hyper-focus on the tiny, and lose sight of bigger things.
When I need, and can afford, a break from that narrow self-protective state, I seek experiences of awe. During this strange time of pandemic, I have found myself gazing upward more often, towards the moon and stars. On a whim, I downloaded the NASA app and have been watching the live stream from the International Space Station: a view of earth from miles above. It really puts things in perspective. With that expansiveness, I am restored to a calm, spacious nervous system state. I feel grounded in awe.
Here's one of my favorite quick sources of awe: Powers of Ten. See what you think! What grounds you in awe?