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The Hidden Power of Awe.

The big effects of feeling small.

Very recently at my wedding, my best friend raised a toast. In her description she described me as someone who would stop by suddenly having noticed a spider and gape with a sharp and audible intake of breath at the beautiful architectural artistry of the spider, temporarily forgetting the rest of the world. While this was true it also made me slightly sheepish. Because I have stopped by often at the most innocuous of things often to the embarrassment of some people, I must admit. .

My moments of Awe. But until recently I never paid too much attention to it. I only say it as an emotion – like joy, confusion, sadness. As I am reading Aurobindo and Autobiography of a Yogi (for the second time), I am now beginning to see it as an artefact. Some thing that may be able to transform in a non linear – quantum way

So what IS awe – Why is it so important for human beings? What hidden powers does it have?

Researchers define awe as the feeling we get in the presence of something larger than ourselves that challenges our usual way of seeing the world. A great work of art, a breath taking morning dew drop, a moving piece of music, the smell of first rain drops, these can all evoke awe.

My most favourite awe moment is when I am by the mighty sea or in front of a giant tree. And the reason it is my favourite is because it humbles me. Makes me realize my location in this vast universe. And true to the lines by Ronan Keating -“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean” – I do feel small.  And this feeling small actually makes me feel big (after I have allowed myself to feel small – surrendered) . 

It fills me. And in some ways expands me to mimic what I am seeing. And in doing so makes me want yearn to be big. The resonance theory does work after all. Not that I needed proof.

Feeling of smallness is Central to the experience of awe but not the kind associated with negative of Self deprecating way—rather, awe involves feeling interconnected with others and broadening our horizons, like a camera lens zooming out to reveal a more complex and inclusive picture. From this perspective, everyday issues tend to feel less overwhelming—as we get smaller, so do they.

Two movie example:

Remember in the movie Kung fu panda – The fundamental drive, despite his size, for Po to act, is his life long awe of the furious five.

In the movie Doctor strange – comes in with his logical linearity – and until the moment when the master makes him experience Awe – (an made to feel small and humble) he is not able to open up to the possibilities).

 Awe is a quantum phenomena.

We can be Awed by many things: Nature, Beauty, innocence, vulnerability, courage – to name a few.

There is entire research by Lani Shiota on How Awe transforms the Body and Mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW8h3JIMmVQ

She states scientific research data on the affects of Awe. Some of the benefits are:

  • Ability to shift perspectives quickly
  • Boost in the immune system
  • Increase in altruistic behavior
  • Experience of time expansion
  • Reduces fight-flight tendencies
  • More positive regard

Role of Awe in Business world cannot be ignored anymore.

We keep hearing the names on the circuit of people who increase the Awe quotient (AQ) , Steve jobs, Phil Knight, Mary Barra, Richard Branson, Indira Nooyi  to name a few.And their organisations and people tell the story loud and clear.

So why is Awe so Awesome?

Awe intrinsically inspires people to change behaviour for the better. It makes them want to be better versions of themselves. It also affects the way people process data and information of things around them. The fundamental meaning making is in an altered state because one is perceiving that which cannot be fully grasped.

However there is a fundamental difference between being motivated and being in Awe.

Being Motivated is about hooking something in the outside world to what is already identified on the inside as a need – need for status, money autonomy etc. when these needs get addressed a person is motivated (read, as long as these needs are met) .

Awe on the other hand has nothing to do with the “ego” needs. In a moment of Awe one is in touch with ‘Potentiality’ and not the permanence. And therefore it’s reach is much further and effect much deeper. It bring forth that which cannot yet be described in language and comprehended by the mind – but the mind will long t want to. Because awe touches the heart and awaken the soul. Hence probably the term “Awe Inspiring” – Awe in-Spirit


I have seen firsthand the benefits of its presence and the pain of its absence working in the Corporate world with Leaders.

Awe can be a great leverage in bringing Change momentum in a team/organization culture.

Some leaders are naturally gifted and some have to learn it. Yes as counter intuitive as it sounds. It can be done.

Its important to learn because there is another side to Awe. It  can also paralyze if “not managed” the right way. – If It is too grand an image that the leader portrays – the relative smallness can also make people feel inadequate and may never take any action. Good leaders ensure that there are other things that continue to inspire awe outside of themselves. This of course then necessitates the leaders themselves having access to other things for them, so as to not make this about them.

The Good News !!!   – Awe can be be learnt.

Some Awe Reflections and Practices:

Reflections:

  • · What things inspire Awe in you?
  • · When was the last time something took your breath away – what was it?
  • · What kind of leader(s) in your personal experience inspired Awe?
  • · How did it change you? – What did it make you want to do/be?

Reflection may tell you about your own “potentiality” – because as Nietzsche said – “When you look into the abyss – the abyss also looks into you”

Practices:

  • 5 Minute awe-time – Take a slow walk – stop to gaze a something that “catches” your attention – no need to evaluate what?
  • Everyday click a picture of something that you find beautiful.
  • Stand beneath a tree for 3 minutes and just look at an notice all the different colours
  • Listen to 5 minutes speech of your favourite speaker. (same speech for 5 – times)
  • Subscribe to nature pictures and put them as random wallpapers on your phone (when the picture changes stay with it for 6 seconds)
  • Please add your own 🙂

One last thing:

Awe can be contagious. It may be one of the most economical large scale behavioural change momentum initiative an organization can take. Because once people are in touch with their big self they will do things on their own (often) to sustain this feeling and belief. 

And make a quantum Leap.

Be Awed !!!

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