My baby was nine months old the January I found out I had cancer. A dermatologist removed the mole. An oncologist would remove even more of the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes to find out if the melanoma had spread, a month later.
That was One. Long. Month.
I fed my baby. Cleaned up the rice cereal that never seemed to make it into her mouth. Washed clothes and worked, writing about people who grow giant pumpkins, those who run a family-run blanket business and the local art show. I wrote about resilience and personal development. I kept the routine.
When my husband got home from work I would meditate. And, sometimes those meditations would turn into prayer and I’d beg the universe to let the cancer be gone. Sometimes, I’d beg for my life.
During this time, I also took a walk every day. I’d walk up and down the hills around our home, huffing and puffing on the way up, cussing silently (I was too out of breath to actually speak) those same hills on the way down. Until that point, I had viewed sweats and t-shirts as, well, work clothes, not something to actually exercise in.
I did not like exercise much, at all. But, I will tell you what, there was absolutely no way I was going to say I was sitting on my ass when I was diagnosed. When the doctor asked “do you exercise?” My answer was damn well going to be “YES.”
So, I walked. And since I hated walking I paid attention to everything else. To my breath in the cold air. To my energy. To my emotions. To the speed of the cars racing through the neighborhood, and the woman, another walker, who passed me on the sloping curve each day, but never seemed to see me there. She never lifted her head.
The Awe of Crocuses
I paid attention to the crocuses. Purple and burning yellow. But not at first. At first when I started walking I just saw little snatches of green and purple peeking through the soil. But they were growing there, in front of the house across the street and down between the rocks on that s-curve and in the barkdust on a berm out front of the gray house on Obsidian Street. The neighborhood was filled with crocuses making their way into the world. Alive. Strong.
One Monday after a weekend storm that littered the sidewalks with branches and pine needles and clogged storm drains with debris, I went looking for the crocuses.
When I came around the corner I saw that the barkdust on the berm where some of crocuses grew, had washed down onto the sidewalk. Rivulets of water still seeped from the soil.
The crocuses had been hammered. The tips of their petals shredded. But they were still there. Growing. And I felt such hope. I stood there in the wet and marveled. It was awesome.
Need to Notice Awe
Awesome is everywhere– even in the middle of a cluster of crocuses — but we forget to look. We forget to slow down.
You don’t have to go jumping out of planes or climbing mountains to discover the awe in your life, it is right here in this moment, the way your eyes blink to keep the dust out and in the little arms that squeeze around your neck when you tuck your child in at bedtime. Awe is in the cold nose of a sweet puppy coming in for a cuddle and it is in that first sip of morning coffee.
Awe is available on a need to notice basis. And when we notice it our lives are elevated.
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Awe eases stress. It binds us to one another. Inspires us to help each other out, connect and care for each other, according to researchers like Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley. It also changes our perception of time, things seem to slow down and people act more generously. They are more likely to help out and volunteer, according to Stanford researcher Melanie Rudd. Awe also boosts our life satisfaction and there is some evidence that says all of this contributes to our well-being and better physical health.
So, while awe does not take the bad away, it buffers it a bit, and helps us find the beauty and goodness right in the middle of the ick.
For a moment awe tweaks the way you look at the world, making things feel just a teeny bit better, more amazing, hopeful. So, instead of thinking cancer, you see the color of crocuses that are there in the very same moment.
And the best thing is this: AWE is right here, for you right now. It is everywhere, but you’ve got to go looking for it. Intend it. Seek it. Savor it.
3 Ways to Access Everyday Awe
1. Intend awe. Put this is your calendar. Not kidding. I write it on my To-Do list “Discover a moment of awe.” I have an hourly chime rigged on my cell phone so that at fifteen minutes past the hour I am reminded to stop what I’m doing, become mindful and discover a moment of awe. Set the intention to discover more awesome in your day and then do it.
2. Seek it out. Now go looking for the good stuff. Slow down, get curious. Start looking at familiar things a new way. Spend some time each day in nature. This does not mean you have to go to survival school, learn to make a fire from sticks, or otherwise immerse yourself in nature. I am totally not the immersing type. But you can take a break and go out to the back deck, or take lunch at the park, or notice the rain. You can find awe in the face looking back at you in the mirror. Drop the judgement. Instead of seeing the wrinkles around your mouth, just think about it a moment; all the neural processes that fire to make you smile. The muscles that move you in this body of yours. Awesome. Or turn on music you love, stuff that touches you, watch an inspiring video on You-Tube, hang out with a friend who is changing the world – or at least yours and notice the awesome in those moments. Awesome is in this moment. It’s been here all along. Just. Notice.
3. Savor it. Then, take it in. Soak it up. Psychologist and author Rick Hanson says when we savor these moments of goodness we start to override the negativity bias in our brains. In time, this helps us to see experience life in a more positive, better-feeling way. We can retrain our brains for positivity.
So, when you spot something beautiful or awesome, stick with it for at least thirty seconds. Take in the good feelings. Identify the emotions you experience. Notice what it generating them. Let them soak in. Savor it all.
Growing Up, Moving On
My then nine month old baby is nine years old now. The cancer the doctors cut out is long gone, leaving only a few scars. I still wear sweats for working and walking. And the crocuses still grow around here. I see them coming up every spring around the hood and they remind me of that time when I went looking for their bold beauty as a reminder of what was working in the world.
But, I know now too, that awe is everywhere – even right in the middle of the mess and difficulty — and when we tap into it, when we access the awe in our lives, we elevate our experience and transform it into something a little better, a little easier to bear. And that is awesome.
Where will you find the awe in your life this week? Seek it out and savor it all.
Polly Campbell is a motivational speaker and the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. You can connect with her on her popular blog Imperfect Spirituality, or follow the practical approaches and down-to-earth strategies she uses to stay grounded (usually) and sane, (mostly), on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of janeb13.