AWE: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion

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9780757305856: AWE: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion

The first book to explore the enigmatic emotion of AWE, based on the only-known study of its connection to the meaning of life

'Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It's an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life's meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life's processes, including health, illness, love, and even death. It may not cause us to come to believe in something, but it can cause us to believe that there is something more beyond the grasp of our limited human consciousness. It can turn our stress into motivation for growth, solidify our commitment to our families as systems that can experience collective awe together, and help us find meaning, comprehensibility, and manageability at times of our most profound losses and even our own death.'

―from Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion

Lyrical, eye-opening, and highly perceptive with unexpected twists and turns as grand as awe itself, Awe is an invitation to leave our states of languishing and to flourish; however, the choice is ultimately yours as to what to do with your eleventh emotion, its delights and dangers, and what you choose to make of it.

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About the Author:

Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., (1942-2007) was a board-certified Clinical Neuropsychologist, clinical professor at the University of Hawaii , and sat on the board of directors for the State of Hawaii Consortium for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Pearsall authored more than nineteen books, many of which were #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Super Immunity, The Power of the Family, Toxic Success, The Heart's Code, The Pleasure Prescription, The Beethoven Factor, and The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Choice of a Lifetime
'Awe: Mysterium tremendium et facinas'
―Rudolf Otto

Faith in the Mysterious
Imagine that you were given the choice of a lifetime―the choice between an easy life and a difficult life. The easy life would be interesting; moreover, it would be relatively stress free and calmly predictable. An unshakable explanatory system would provide a safety net when crisis happened, and nothing astonishingly and perplexingly wonderful would ever mess up your thinking. Horrible and/or challenging life events would not keep defying how you see and understood life. The other, more difficult life would be vastly more enthralling, but also full of tremendous mysteries and would sometimes send you down into the depths of confused depression, even as it lifted you to the strange elation that life can be so magnificent and powerfully confusing. This difficult life would consist of constantly searching for the meaning of life and how life should be lived and understood, and would prompt you to totally rearrange your life and how you view it. Which would you choose? This is a book about what happens if you could make the second choice or, as often happens, have that kind of life imposed upon you by events that lead to undeniably true and deep awe. It's about a life full of moments of powerful and transformative emotions that frequently send chills down our spines, fill our eyes with tears, cause our hearts to race, make the hair on the backs of our necks stand on end, boggle the mind, and literally take our breath away―in other words, a life full of awe.

This book makes the case for the valuable irresistible fascination, the highest elation, and sometimes a most profound sadness that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension, perplexing dread, yet appreciative wonder and hope regarding the vast mysteries of life that is known as awe. But be warned: Choosing or having imposed upon you the more difficult, challenging, awe-inspired life won't always be what most people might call 'a good life,' even though it is guaranteed to be a full life. It will be far from an easy life, but it will be an unimaginably intense one that may not leave you feeling better but will leave you feeling in ways that you may never have imagined possible.

What is so difficult about living a life filled with awe? The kind of awe, as experienced by hundreds of people who describe their experiences with this most unique of human responses in the following pages, is much more than appreciating beauty found in nature, having a temporarily reverent religious experience, or experiencing what is being described by the increasingly ubiquitous word 'awesome.' It is a mystical feeling that seems to be capable of incorporating almost all of our other emotions. It's as 'real' as our experience of life ever gets―so real, in fact, that it overwhelms you like no other emotion and, like passionate lovemaking, can leave you feeling drained as much as inspired.

Although intense contemplation of its meaning can end up deepening it, awe often shakes our faith and disturbs the solace of our spiritual certitude. When we're in awe, life ceases to make sense, or at least to comply with the sense we've made of it so far. It doesn't make the kind of sense we thought it made before we were awed by something that seems beyond our understanding of what makes (or can make) sense. Awe results in a sense of fear and submission to things, events, people, and ideas that are experienced as being much greater than the self, and that can make us feel wonderful or terrible, or even both ways at the same time.

Choosing a life full of awe means that we are frequently anxious and uncertain and are never self-confident, because awe is the ultimate 'ism' breaker. Being in the kind of awe you will be reading about upsets any firm conviction we may hold―that our personal version of monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, agnosticism, or atheism is the one and only right belief. Because it so suddenly puts an end to our sense of self―and offers only mystery rather than answers, and a need to know more rather than a sense that we finally know it all―awe is more like feeling repeatedly 'dead again' than the experience of being 'born again' (comfortably and safely converted to the certainty of having finally found the answer).

If you choose a life of awe, you will surrender the solace of certitude. You will live with more 'open-ture' than closure and, unless you can learn to find a strange, exciting comfort in being presented with and grappling with the tremendous mysteries life offers, you will seldom feel calm or at ease for very long. Awe offers far more stress and aggravation than comfort or relief, more self-doubt and agitation than assured self-confidence, and often more contemplative sadness than relieved joy. You might not end up having faith in anything other than the fact that life and the universe are not only beyond what you even imagined, but also transcend what anyone can or will ever be able to imagine. One woman from my Study of the Awe Inspired (SAI) described her awe response by saying, 'When I was in awe, I felt like I had suddenly discovered the secret of life, but I didn't know what it was. I just suddenly felt that there was this immense, scary, wonderfully overwhelming secret that made me feel afraid, sad, and strangely invigorated all at the same time. I don't think I've ever felt more messed up or more alive in my whole life.'

Another person I interviewed in SAI expressed her experience of awe by saying, 'When you have a lot of awe in your life, I mean the real deep kind of life-altering awe that makes you rethink everything, you're not born again. It's more like you keep dying again and again, until there's almost no more you. You're not 'born again' in any single religious sense because you don't end up converted or suddenly finding one answer or one idea that you have unshakable faith in. I guess the faith you do end up with, after you've thought a lot about whatever awed you, is a faith in the fact that there is an endless mystery of life that we're privileged to have the chance to grapple with, and that's a very big and fascinating thing to have faith in―that's there's more than we do or can know. I agree now with Helen Keller when she said that life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.'

An Incredible Journey
Awe is experienced as the sudden awareness that life is, as the famous biologist J. B. S. Haldane put it in his essay 'Possible Worlds,' 'not only queerer than we suppose [which relates to a facinas, or fascinating life] but queerer than we can suppose [which relates to mysterium tremendium, or a tremendously mysterious life].'1 When we're in awe, Hamlet's challenge to Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than his philosophy could dream is experienced as is the even more disarming sense that there may be no philosophy sufficient to create a dream bizarre or outlandish enough to incorporate whatever it was that inspired our awe. Awe renders us dumbstruck, and it's up to us whether we want to take it from there and start thinking deeper and differently about life or experience a brief spiritual buzz that leaves our life's explanatory system unperturbed.

Awe can make us feel strange, because it's the emotion we feel when we're most in touch with the unfathomable eeriness that is the universe we live in. It wakes us from the languishing sleeplike state we've fallen into that results in taking so much of life for granted. If we think long and hard enough about whatever inspired it, awe can turn things we've gotten used to into revelations that make us wonder how we could have ever taken them for granted. Awe can turn what we seldom allow ourselves to pay attention to into astonishing new questions about our place in the universe―questions that can take considerable mental effort to keep ignoring. But if you're the kind of person who's looking for answers, the choice of an awe-filled life isn't for you.

If you take a few moments to reflect on the following facts―even though a very narrow band of imagination and understanding limits humans to sensing such a very small part of the world around us―you might experience the blend of unbounded delight, humbling dread, and excited incredulousness that characterizes the awe response. It's difficult to imagine a race of beings taking the following facts for granted and considering them ordinary, but they describe how we're all traveling every second of our life: We ­seldom think about it (our senses are so limited that we don't feel it, and our narrow band of belief seldom allows us to accept it), but we're all riding around together on one of the universe's billion fragile, cracking, exploding rocks, on which even our existence is a statistical fluke beyond one in billions. Sucked to our gas-covered rock by an invisible force, we're being spun around at 17 miles per second while at the same time whizzing at 19 miles per second around a nuclear exploding fireball that, even though it's 90 million miles away, holds our rock in its orbit with its invisible force, and, if our rock got too close, could cook us all in a nanosecond.

If thinking about those numbers isn't enough to tease at least a little awe out of you, consider these additional facts: The rock spinning us around, the fireball that keeps life on our rock alive, and the entire solar system that contains these speeding objects are also spinning together at 140 miles per second as one huge mass. This mass is spinning around the center of a galaxy called the Milky Way, and even at this unfathomable speed, this galaxy is so vast in size that it still takes about 200 million years for the rock and its fireball to complete one orbit around it.

If you've chosen the easier, busier, interesting, less mentally bothersome life over the harder, awesome kind that gets you more easily and deeply personally involved in tremendous mysteries suggested by those numbers, you may have already thought, 'Wow, that's kind of interesting,' and like a distracted business traveler on a jet plane, sat back and ignored how fast you are traveling, dismissed the perils of such a warp-speed trip, and preferred not to contemplate why or how this galactic race is happening in the first place. On the other hand, if you tend to have a lower awe threshold and are in the midst of the difficult mysterious life that comes with it, you may not only be thinking about what these numbers mean, but also even trying to feel the speed they describe.

If I still haven't gotten you to reflect on the fact of just how fast you're going and the paradox that you could be going so unbelievably fast and still feel that you're sitting perfectly still reading this book, maybe just a few more facts will engage your awe response. The Earth, Sun, and Milky Way are also speeding through the nothingness of space at 25 miles per hour, and, together with a few other neighboring galactic systems, this entire cosmic collection itself is also hurtling at 375 miles per second toward some of the other 100 billion-plus galaxies that are also spinning and whizzing around.
If thinking about all this for even a minute still doesn't boggle your mind to be awed enough to want to think about what this all means, consider that all of this speed is ultimately generated by the influence of invisible stuff called dark matter. That's a phrase similar to the old term terra incognita used by ancient cartographers, who were also in awe of the world they were trying to represent but couldn't find the words to describe undocumented mysterious territories.

Dark matter is something we can't see, but scientists have proven it has to be there because, whatever it is, its ghostly presence and energy keep pulling and tugging on the galaxies and the small amount of matter we can see, like the rock we're riding on. In fact astrophysicists tell us that the matter we see makes up only 4 percent of the universe, and based on what you are about to read about our awe response, that might serve as a reasonable estimate of about how much of our life we allow ourselves to be in awe of.
Because awe is so mind-boggling and perturbing to our mental and emotional status quo, you may have already said to yourself by now, 'Enough already! I get the point.' But do you? You will read in the following pages that awe can be so powerfully disruptive to our thinking that it tires it out, and we want to quickly try to get past it and move on. I encourage you not to bail out and instead to keep reflecting about the fantastic voyage you're on.

The harder life, one characterized by frequently being in awe and not being frightened by the time-consuming and often upsetting contemplation and reflection that awe offers, is the most fully lived life of all. But the choice is yours. You could decide to just be inspired for a few moments by the wonderfully puzzling events that happen in life, and then return quickly back to a more comfortable daily routine. Just as we're often told to 'keep busy' or 'keep going' or even take medication to numb our feelings to get us through our grief and despair, we can choose to be awed and let the terrible things pass or explain them away with old ideas seldom challenged or indoctrinated in us during childhood. The current incidence of languishing―the psychological diagnosis for mistaking an intensely busy life for a meaningfully connected one―is related to diminishing awe to a brief high that has little lasting impact on our lives.

Consider the fact that, in addition to the 22 percent of the universe made up of the mysterious dark matter, the rest of whatever 'is' in the universe is an even stranger something called dark energy. No one can see it, but it's pushing everything away from everything else. It makes up the remaining 74 percent of the universe and gives off a repulsive invisible energy totally resistant to gravity and that is causing the vast nothingness in which all the travel described in this chapter is taking place to constantly expand.

It seems worthy of our attention to reflect on the idea that nothingness can keep expanding as the after-effect of an as-yet-unexplained, sudden 'big bang' that took place 13 billion years ago, when time is assumed to have begun. I haven't had enough time yet to try to figure out where time was before it began, but some scientists now suggest that the nothingness of space may be breathing in a 20-billion-year cycle of an exhale-like, post-bang expansion, followed eventually by a reactive contraction in a big-crunch cosmic inhale, and so on and so on for infinity―whatever that is.

You're probably suffering from severe awe fatigue by now, because the brain just doesn't want to deal with all this information and is more interested in its usual fixation on the four f's of fighting, fleeing, feeding, or fornicating. That's because we've allowed our awe response to atrophy from disuse. The easy life choosers might call the facts you've just read 'fascinating' or even say they knew them already―and so what? But choosers of a difficult life who are open to awe's challenges are willing to go the next step to contemplating the tremendous mystery they represent.

A Debt to the Unborn
Awe is an overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness. For many of us, a little awe once in a while in the form of brief, attentive fascination is enough, and the time and effort of reflective awe and all the mental and emotional upheaval it causes isn't something we want or have time for in our daily lives. Our awe response is made even more ...

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Descrizione libro HEALTH COMMUNICATIONS, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The first book to explore the enigmatic emotion of AWE, based on the only-known study of its connection to the meaning of life Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It s an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life s meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life s processes, including health, illness, love, and even death. It may not cause us to come to believe in something, but it can cause us to believe that there is something more beyond the grasp of our limited human consciousness. It can turn our stress into motivation for growth, solidify our commitment to our families as systems that can experience collective awe together, and help us find meaning, comprehensibility, and manageability at times of our most profound losses and even our own death. --from Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion Lyrical, eye-opening, and highly perceptive with unexpected twists and turns as grand as awe itself, Awe is an invitation to leave our states of languishing and to flourish; however, the choice is ultimately yours as to what to do with your eleventh emotion, its delights and dangers, and what you choose to make of it. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780757305856

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Descrizione libro HEALTH COMMUNICATIONS, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The first book to explore the enigmatic emotion of AWE, based on the only-known study of its connection to the meaning of life Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It s an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it and put in the effort to try to understand a little more about life s meaning, awe becomes less a feeling of being high and more a feeling of deep immersion in any and all of life s processes, including health, illness, love, and even death. It may not cause us to come to believe in something, but it can cause us to believe that there is something more beyond the grasp of our limited human consciousness. It can turn our stress into motivation for growth, solidify our commitment to our families as systems that can experience collective awe together, and help us find meaning, comprehensibility, and manageability at times of our most profound losses and even our own death. --from Awe: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion Lyrical, eye-opening, and highly perceptive with unexpected twists and turns as grand as awe itself, Awe is an invitation to leave our states of languishing and to flourish; however, the choice is ultimately yours as to what to do with your eleventh emotion, its delights and dangers, and what you choose to make of it. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780757305856

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