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by Jim Greer

LW contributor

During Abilene’s summer kick-off concert at the Amphitheater, it felt like things were back to normal. Thousands cheered, sang, danced and did the hand jive. For an hour and a half, we broke out of the Groundhog Day cycle and started toward a new life.

In the lockdown period of the pandemic, many worked from home permanently planted in front of a computer screen during work hours. A psychologist from Arizona State University, Michelle Shiota, discovered after six months of lockdown she didn’t feel like herself. By the fall of 2020, she felt as though her mind had shrunk. Fortunately, she knew just what could help her break the mind-numbing cycle.

Michelle’s shrinking brain rebounded when she got outside for a few minutes each day to search for “awe.” This newly adopted routine forced Michelle to look beyond herself and take in new discoveries that were outside her daily routine.

Piercarlo Valdesolo, a researcher at Claremont McKenna College, describes awe as “the feeling that occurs when you encounter something unexpected, unexplainable, vast and extraordinary.”

My search for awe was in the discovery of colorful flowers and trees throughout Leisure World on my morning walks. Thousands of shareholders graciously shared their favorite flowering trees and shrubs, for me to discover. I captured images of my favorites on my iPhone and shared them with friends on Facebook and Instagram.

These moments of awe open eyes and hearts to the wonders of the world around us and help push aside the feelings of entrapment that COVID forced on us. Just as Michelle Shiota and I discovered, the world that had been just outside our door opened up to us as we sought awe.

Valdesolo explains that awe makes you realize there's something significant beyond yourself, and when you see it, concerns fade into the background, and you become more interested in the collective, our shared society. We become more generous, more helpful and more cooperative.

Thinking less of ourselves and focusing outward is the antidote to isolation. Other studies reveal that awe reduces stress, helping to calm you down. Michelle states, “Our fight-flight sympathetic nervous system activation dials back a little bit. People feel an impulse to stop moving and really just take in the information about what’s happening before acting next.”

The best advice is to take a moment each day to seek awe. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University, explains, “Over time, it becomes easier to feel this mood-boosting emotion. It may sound hokey in the abstract, but I can guarantee you that if you practice it, then that practice is essentially helping to rewire your brain to be able to make those emotions much more easily.”

Why not fill every day with awe? Take awe walks or drives around our neighborhood or along the beach. Look for unexpected, extraordinary and inspiring everyday things. As you notice them, your whole body will relax, and your heart and soul will shake off the residue of the lockdown.

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