A cloud of of nutmeg mannikins rose in front of me, brown puffballs slightly larger than the hallucinogenic seed for which these birds are named. Later in the day, a woman near me on a sidewalk broke out in a smile so tender that I smiled too. She said: “Much pain.” Across the street an angry man was yelling: Much pain indeed.
Amid the light of such windows I am learning to live my life. Awe, it seems, surfaces in the common delights of days. The wondrous nature of our humanity. I train myself to catch these fleeting moments. Until they freely fly toward me.
Research shows we can increase things like resilience and collaboration by focusing on positive emotions such as awe (the feeling we get witnessing something vast that challenges our understanding of the world). It’s perhaps because when we feel awe our sense of self and self-interest quietens. Think serotonin too. We turn to others as if seeking to share this strange flavor of joy. “It’s joy by which the labor that will make the life that I want possible,” says Ross Gay, PhD.
How shall we bring awe into life? Awe vibrates in the everyday: Stars. Trembling grasses. A smile. Nutmeg. At the end of the day, to recall three glimpses of awe. A small awesome practice for the commons of good work.
An Inuit Poem (Knud Rasmussen coll., Greenland, 1931)
I came down
Where the ocean lies before the shore
And looked out over
The small lands in the north
Lying blue under the clear sky,
And I thought:
Someday, when I am tired, and lie down to rest,
Someday, when I die, all this that I see
Will be the same to others,
And the air will arch blue
And quiver in the heat
In just the same way
To those who live when I am gone
But I became faint
At all this beauty