The Mind

Being in awe can expand time and enhance wellbeing

Damselfly in Big Wood, Erddig

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein.

The moments that I feel the most imbued with a sense of awe are always the moments when I am outdoors.  I can't help but feel a certain sense of wonder - I become almost filled with it.

It doesn't matter what we've experienced, whether it's the breath-taking scope of a mountain-top, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, marvelling at a beautiful sunset or the beauty of a damselfly, at some point in our lives we've all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.

I spent a lot of my childhood walking and horse-riding in the Berwyn Mountains. Whenever I return to the hills, I’m struck by how small I am and how insignificant my problems are.

When I am in the mountains, or in the woods, my heart rate slows. Time stands still and I am home.

Awe seems to be a universal emotion and not surprisingly it has been studied by scientists. Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.

The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and wellbeing can be explained by awe's ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.

Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

Experiencing awe can also make us happier and improve our mental state. It can even make us nicer people. For me some of the most awe-inspiring experiences in my life have been watching my newborn daughters take their first breaths, standing on the top of Ben Nevis and taking in the view, watching the Aurora Borealis in the North Pole, and galloping on horseback across the moors high in the mountains with breath-taking views all around me.

But here’s the best part: you can find it in everyday life. You don’t have to book a trip to the Grand Canyon or head to the top of a mountain to find your special place. You just need to stay in the moment and appreciate what is around you.

Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation and being full of awe and wonder at this beautiful world that we live in.

Often, when I'm out walking, I like to stop and just focus on one very small area. It's so easy to miss the beauty and intricacies of nature unless we take the time to stop and stare now and again.

“None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future:  nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.” Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking.

Rainbow over Erddig Hall


My friend Norman

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I have an invisible friend. His name is Norman. His job is to help me do things I might struggle to do myself. For example, I’m in my car and driving into town. It’s busy and it could be difficult to park. But, I never have any problem getting a parking space because I send Norman ahead and he has a space cleared for me by the time I get there.

One Saturday just before Christmas, as we headed towards a busy car park, I was telling my daughters about Norman. They thought I was mad. I assured them that I had sent Norman ahead and he had saved me a space in the second lane from the end, four spaces down on the right. As we drove up the lane in the car park all the spaces were taken. My daughters laughed and one said “Perhaps it’s because you drive too fast…maybe he walked” and “You’re crazy Mum”. As I got in front of ‘my space’ the lights flashed on the black Range Rover parked there, I reversed, the Range Rover pulled out and the lady driving put her hand up and smiled. I smiled, raised my hand in return, and pulled into the space. “Who on earth was that?” asked my daughter. “Oh, that must be Norman’s wife. He must’ve been held up and asked her to come instead” I said. Inside the car was silent. However, now whenever we are going somewhere they always say “ask Norman where to park”.

Now, what Norman really does is he shuts down the voices in my head that say “It’s too busy!” “I’m never going to be able to park.” “It’s not worth trying.”

Beliefs can influence our actions in a way that makes those beliefs actually come true.

Years ago I owned a horticultural business and I would sell and deliver plants all over the country. I would often take brief directions over the phone, have a quick look at a map, and away I’d go. I thought nothing of driving to the north of Scotland, London, Spaghetti Junction, or anywhere else orders took me.  I very rarely got lost. Whenever anyone asked me how I did it I would tap Puggy’s steering wheel (Puggy was my Peugeot) and say, ”Oh, the car knows its way.”

More recently I was asked to do a seminar at Old Trafford in Manchester. Because it had been a while since I had driven through the city I decided to try using a sat nav. It got me close. I could see the venue but I was stuck in a dead end on the edge of a housing estate. I should have trusted Norman (he was with me of course) when he told me to go right when the sat nav told me to go left.

Norman can help with all sorts of things.

Imagine, for example, you were going for an interview and you sent Norman ahead to tell the interview panel what a great person you are, how good you are at your job, and how worthy you would be of this position. Your feelings of not being good enough would dissipate.

I always know when someone doesn’t have a Norman to smooth the way for them. If someone comes to me to ask for something I can tell whether they think they will get it or not. It might be the way they walk, the way they look around, or their attempt to engage me in useless conversation…

It seems ironic to think that what we’re so afraid of or don’t want can become reality. However, at times our actions function as if they were calling them to happen.

Thank goodness I have Norman to help me.