Fear and trepidation or awe and wonder – two extremes of perception. Smack in the middle of these, there’s languishing – a gray, empty land where the mood is blah and the motivation is non-existent. As we venture into 2022, where are you?
Admittedly, I was in between… but I call it living in the ellipsis. That describes a scenario when something has been left out…leaving you in limbo. In grammar, it expresses a lack of clarity. That’s why it is so descriptive of where I was living in my head when the calendar turned into a new year.
In past years, I’ve always led workshops as the new year launches on vision boards and clear intentions. I’d call myself a dreamer, a doer, a shaker, and a mover. This year, I just couldn’t. There are so many unknowns ahead of us still. My normal exuberance was missing.
About a week into the new year, someone asked me the specific question, “What do you want to see happen in your business in the next six months?” I realized that to fail to stir myself up to dream and envision the future would be hypocrisy. I would be shortchanging myself and far more serious – shirking the call on my life.
Thankfully, I strengthened my heart with the help of some brilliant friends, squared my shoulders, and started picturing the possibilities. I began with an annual practice of choosing a word for the year. I was surprised at how quickly the words began popping in my head. And yes, this year it’s two words: awe and wonder. With the year 2022, two seems appropriate.
Awe is defined as a strong feeling of respect or amazement brought on by something that is beautiful or sacred. Awe is something jaw-dropping that we observe. It’s being a spectator and appreciator of something beyond ourselves.
The research on the healing power of experiencing awe is compelling and all of us could use some healing and TLC after last year. UC Berkeley psychology researcher, Craig L. Anderson, conducted 3 years of studies on helping people heal from Post Traumatic Stress Order that were published in 2020. Only awe could predict whether people get better [from PTSD],” says Anderson. “There was no such relationship with other emotions.
You might not be suffering from PTSD, but the healing value applies to all of us.
A “nature fix” was described as a prescription for stress, instilling an immediate feeling of joy and inculcating an improved outlook over the longer term. A study by researchers at the UC San Francisco Memory and Aging Center (MAC) and the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) report that a regular dose of awe is a simple way to boost healthy ‘prosocial’ emotions such as compassion and gratitude. Adults who took weekly 15-minute “awe walks” for eight weeks reported increased positive emotions and less distress in their daily lives.
Dr. Deb Williams, a physician friend, intrigued me with her references to the healing virtues of “forest bathing”. That phrase comes from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku, which describes walking and spending time in forests – a popular form of preventive health care in Japan. Yoshifumi Miyazaki from Chiba University, discovered that going for a 40-minute walk in a forest lowers the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as lowers blood pressure and supports the immune system. This same effect is not produced by a 40-minute walk indoors. Qing Li from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo has shown that trees and plants emit compounds known as phytoncides that when inhaled give us therapeutic benefits. Phytoncides change the blood composition, impacting our protection against cancer and boosting the immune system.
Nature walks are truly affordable self-care. When was the last time you gave yourself permission to walk slowly and enjoy the beauty of nature? Getting your steps in while talking on the phone doesn’t count toward reducing stress.
Experiencing awe can lead us to a state of wonder. Wonder fuels our passion for exploration and learning, for curiosity and adventure. Wonder is the action stimulated by awe.
Rachel Carson writes, “If I had influence with a good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life is an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength”.
Awe and wonder are my words for 2022, but I’m happy to invite you into an awareness that sets the tone for everyday epiphanies. The awe, wonder, and resiliency of your soul are wild and precious gifts.