Saturday, 6 June 2015

Beyond Awesome

Who knows what sometimes gets your brain in a tangle? For me, it started when a friend posted a New York Times article on Facebook about awe.

Awe, said the researchers, consists of two qualities: a sense of vastness – something we think to be greater than ourselves – and a need to reconfigure our mind to include this experience. Often, an experience of awe is transformative; we see the world through different lenses.

People in the studies who experienced awe had an expanded sense of time, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, and preferred good experiences over material goods. Awe also aids creativity, gives us hope, makes us more empathetic, and helps us appreciate life.

It was all very good, a very important topic. I needed to get me some of that awe, I thought, and I wondered how I could do this every day in my own life. But something else was getting in the way. 

It was the word awesome. It is very hard to get serious about awe when the word awesome is floating about so freely.

Bar patron 1: Hey, dude, you spilled beer on my cell phone.
Bar patron 2: Awesome!

Teenager to friend: Shudda seen the awesome zit on my face this morning. I squeezed it. Yuk.
Friend: Awesome!

Teenybopper: I was like shopping in like Forever21 ...
BFF: like, awesome! ...
Teenybopper: yeah, cool, and I saw like the most awesome leggings, and like, I bought ‘em.
BFF: Awesome.

There’s a website called that posts a new AWESOME thing every day, and invites readers to add to the list. Things like  #951: hearing a stranger fart in public (catching a business man doing the deed while riding an express elevator to the 98th floor is the most TOTALLY awesome; he can't hide!) and #871: finding out that your birthday will be on a Friday or Saturday. Mine is – this week, even. Awesome!

Oh dear. No wonder there’s a movement afoot to ban the word awesome from the English language. That, and its sister AMAZING, its British cousin BRILLIANT, and baby brother Freakin’ Cool. These are amazingly, awesomely, brilliantly overused words that are no longer freakin’ cool. Are you with me, dude?

The sign reads: "The campaign to stamp out AWESOME starts here. Please try to restrict usage of this nauseatingly ubiquitous and by now completely meaningless superlative to those of us who are under the age of 12."
Actually, I like the word awesome, but in proper context. I’m not so sure that finding 40 minutes left on the parking meter, or picking up the last available barbecue on special is so awesome – although I will admit that I used the word when I counted the change that fell out of our jeans when I did the laundry: $20.20. Awesome! (Oops.)

But these delightful experiences, fun as they are, are not the stuff that inspires me to think of transcendence, causing me to rejig my view of the world. For that, I need to slow down, open my eyes, and really, really look at the world. When I sit with my morning coffee, I look outside our dining room window and watch the bees flying in and out of the individual bells of the foxglove flowers. In and out, in and out, collecting food, making their way back to the hive to feed babies they’ll never see. Now that’s awesome.

The bees wouldn't pose for this picture, but you get the idea!

I need to lay on my back outdoors on a summer night, far from the city lights, and stare up at the sky, knowing that billions of years ago, stars exploded, creating what I see – and then I remember Joni Mitchell singing, “We are stardust...” We are connected to this vast galaxy, sharing “stuff”. Wow!

photo courtesy Flickr
A poem that takes my breath away with its clarity and beauty; a piece of music that brings tears to my eyes; a child sharing his last Smarties with a friend who has none; a frail elderly couple holding hands as they take their evening walk past our house; a generous teacher sharing her skills and wisdom freely, without compensation ... the list goes on. Awesome!

This week, I wish for you, and for me, experiences of awe that fill our souls with wonder.

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