Thanks to the work of Dr. Katie Bouman and 200 other scientists from around the world, millions of people recently viewed the first image of a black hole. We looked at the photo of a dark orb with a fiery edge, and we were entranced.
The image was everywhere. Facebook and television and Instagram. Newspapers and magazines, too. For a 48-hour period last week, the black hole was almost omnipresent. The top news story was astronomy-related! It was fantastic.
Since then, I’ve been pondering why the black hole captured the attention of so many of us. What about that beautiful, blurry circle made us all stop what we were doing long enough to say, “Wow! This is truly incredible!”?
Most of us don’t have a comprehensive understanding of general relativity, radio wave telescopes, or event horizons. And yet, we didn’t need to fully fathom any of that in order to be enchanted by the visual of a black hole 55 million light-years from earth. In a world with so many voices clamoring for our collective attention, for a little while, we picked a fuzzy cosmic abyss.
It felt holy. The whole thing. Like an intergalactic invitation.
Awe is described as “an overwhelming feeling of reverence and admiration produced by that which is grand, sublime, or extremely powerful.” The image of the black hole was an invitation to take a step toward awe.
What if we lived our whole lives with an openness to such wonder-filled invitations? What if we moved through our days and weeks and months ready to encounter the sublime in ways large and small? What if awe is most certainly waiting for us out in space, and it’s also right in our own homes and yards and workplaces?
Regardless of our religious affiliations and rhythms of congregational participation, we can all feel awe, and an openness to incorporating more of that sensation into our days can have a positive impact on our lives. In her paper “The Science of Awe,” Dr. Summer Allen writes that experiences of awe “shift our attention away from ourselves, make us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves, and make us more generous toward others.”
Awe is a transformative force in the world; let’s embrace it!
The Great Good Science Center has created a website describing hundreds of science-based practices that they believe can create a more meaningful life. One of those practices is an “awe walk” which entails walking for 15-minutes with open awareness to wonder, surprise and delight. For the full description, visit https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/awe_walk.
The description of the awe walk explains, “With the right outlook, awe can be found in almost any environment, turning a mundane experience into a flight of inspiration and wonder.” Consider giving an awe walk a try in the week ahead. Invite a friend or family member to join you!
How might we all carve intentional space in our lives for experiences of awe? Let’s experiment this spring and savor the good effects it will have on our hearts, minds and interactions.