The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I turn my heart towards the mad ones,
those who reject the temptations of conformity and the allure of sameness.
They venture into the wild and carve their own path.
They walk into and embrace the darkness, without any direction home.
They follow the burning light inside of them, their torch ablaze,
illuminating the cave to new ways of being.
'Zombies, zombies everywhere!' they whisper in my ear with caution.
Nothing terrifies them more than the 'cult of normal', they tell me.
These humans, they say, are pre-programmed with a similar code,
with identical thoughts, goals and aspirations.
They are stamped, dated, and come off the assembly line in a timely manner.
One after the other after the other.
Let us not forget that the trailblazers throughout history, from Socrates, Jesus, the Buddha and Gandhi, were all initially dismissed by the conformists, the dogmatic masses.
We laughed, scolded and persecuted them with our childish arrogance.
It is only in retrospect in which we fully appreciate their greatness.
Blessed are the weird ones!
Let us turn our hearts to those who have no shame in living out their authentic selves.
So I tell you, dear reader,
throw away the script,
corrupt the code,
follow Truth, Beauty and Goodness wherever it may lead you.
Live as a free-spirit,
But more importantly, be human - all too human.
It may seem cliché, but we are all born with a unique set of gifts. Each of us is distinct from one another with different genes, cultural upbringings and life experiences. Moreover, we all have our own interests, passions and value that we can offer the world. No one quite sees or interprets things like we do.
Rather than inspiring authenticity and creativity, our education system seems to do the opposite. Motivated by well-intentioned ambitions to standardize learning and increase test scores, schools can often inadvertently take the inherent joy out of learning. Standardized testing promotes conformity and diminishes the limitless imagination of children. We are taught to think the same, to stay within a confined set of boundaries.
Education becomes mechanical, a cookie-cutter or ‘one-sized’ fits all model. The late education scholar Ken Robinson compares the school system to an assembly line in a factory.
Ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches, you know, we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? You know, it’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture.
If we want to respect the unique gifts of students, our education needs to be flexible and adaptable. It must aim to cultivate and celebrate the different kind of learning styles of students. The issue is that the current model of education places a high emphasis on a narrow and limited kind of intelligence, academic ability. If a student does not score well on tests and receive high grades, we tend to view them as unintelligent.
But how about if the problem isn’t the student, but rather the school’s outdated ways of assessment?
The Harvard professor of education Howard Garner argues that there is a broader range of human abilities that go beyond those which can be measured in a standardized test. Howard notes that there are at least eight forms of intelligence which capture the full scope of human potential. These include: linguistic, logical, spatial, bodily, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic.
Rather than, creating one type of evaluation for all, Garner’s theory implies that teachers should adapt their learning styles to the unique needs of their students. This requires teachers to be more cognizant of the diversity of their students, and to adapt their teaching styles to ensure it captures the various developmental needs of their class.
Like many, I have memories of cramming for exams only to forget the material of the subject a couple days after. Would my time have been better served by other modes of assessment which allowed me to apply and internalize the information I learned in more engaging ways?
In my view, the primary aim of education should be to instill a love of learning in the student. To allow an individual to satisfy their curiosity and imagination. When we are given the right tools and instruction from our teachers, we become immersed and passionate about the material we are studying. We look willfully engage with the material and look for new solutions and novel ways to apply what we’ve learned.
The individuals who inspire me personally are those who think differently, who look at the world in unique and innovate ways. Those who challenge the status quo, and risk being looked at as ‘strange’ or ‘weird’ by the public. Thinkers like Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin may have performed poorly in school, but each would revolutionize their respective fields in innovative ways. Making your own path and going against the grain enables society to move forward. As the inventor and physician Edward de Bono notes,
There is no doubt that creativity is the most important resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.
Education therefore should aim to inspire, cultivate our unique gifts and allow us to reach our full potential as human beings. This not only will benefit students but also society as a whole as we reap the rewards of the creativity of others.
We often forget how extraordinary the world we live in is. The vast array of spectacular species that have existed long before the evolution of the human being. The beauty and perspective that a sunset provides on a perfect summer’s day.
We become weighed down by the day-to-day responsibilities of adulthood. This can consequently take the wonder and awe that is waiting to be found in the world.
If only we were to be more present.
If only we were to pay a little more attention to what surrounds us.
I think experiences of ‘awe’ can provide us with a reset, connecting us to others, to nature and providing a sense of belonging. It reminds us that we are not strangers on this earth. There is no separation between us and the natural world. Everything is intertwined though a series of complex networks and systems.
To make sense of the power of experiences of awe, I interviewed Fraser Deans founder of the Awe app.
Tell us a bit about the Awe app. What was your main inspiration behind its development?
The Awe app was created to help people find moments of awe and wonder in their daily lives. The app helps us reset, relax and regain perspective during our busy lives.
A few years ago I was invited to a meditation evening organized by monastics from Plum Village (established by the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh). It began as a fairly normal group sitting with guided meditations and dharma talks. Later they led us through a mindful eating exercise with a tangerine. After meditating on this tiny orange fruit, noticing its imperfections, its squishiness, its fragrance and its sweetness, we were simply asked “where did it come from”. From this innocuous question the entire experience transformed. The fruit having been handed to me by a monk, was bought from a supermarket, was transported in a truck, was born from a tree fed by the sun and soil. A flower was pollinated by a bee belonging to a hive.
Water from a cloud or river was guzzled up by the tree’s roots. Generations of trees and fruit eating animals and pollinating insects had evolved with each other to offer me this fruit. That tanginess on my tongue was the resulting sensation of all those preceding events. I was no longer holding the tangerine, I was holding the universe. Thich Nhat Hanh labelled this realisation as inter-being. I felt immense gratitude and humility at the sheer scale of interconnections occurring so I could experience the sweetness on my tongue.
After the event I pondered what this experience actually was. The realization was described as “inter-being” but what was the actual phenomenological experience? Research gave an answer. It was AWE! I’d had a profound, pure awe experience.
Awe has two requirements.
Firstly, perceived vastness. The stimuli should appear much larger than the observer’s normal sense of self. This can be either physical (like a mountain) or conceptual (like a philosophical idea). In my case, vastness was felt from the interconnectedness of previous events.
Secondly, a need for accommodation. This involves a realization or experience that doesn’t currently fit with the observer’s world view. For example, a toddler, having only experienced friendly dogs, would need to accommodate the information that dogs can be dangerous before meeting a guard dog. In my case, I needed to accommodate the realization that reality was connected in such a deep way. (I also probably needed to accommodate the idea that insignificant objects like tangerines could trigger insight).
So then the question, how do we get more awe experiences?
And the original idea of an app was born. An app that leads you to awe-inspiring local nature with a guided audio track that blends direct experience, systems thinking, science, quotes and poetry. A source to stimulate new ways of reframing the world around us.
The app has changed slightly since the initial vision. Now, you’ll be able to listen to seasonal meditations that connect people with nature. Nature is the best elicitor of awe. Our Awe Walks feature brings awe to your daily strolls through mindful nature prompts. We have added courses from top nature connection leaders. For example, Mark Westmoquette, a Zen Monk and Astronomer, leads us for mindful stargazing. And finally each day ponder a beautiful quote from one of history’s leading thinkers.
2. What knowledge or insights do you hope people will gain from experiencing more awe in their lives?
Studies in awe have proven heaps of psychological benefits including boosting mood and reducing depression, increasing feelings of connectedness, increasing cognitive flexibility and improving life satisfaction. The effects of awe even tie into pro-environmental behaviour changes (and we need that right now).
But I suppose on a more personal level I hope awe helps those struggling with modern life to find beauty where they didn’t see it before.
3. Do your experiences of awe and wonder relate to ideas of the sacred or notions of spirituality?
A key belief for me is that we can find awe and wonder in absolutely any object when framed in the right way (like the tangerine). However, frame adjustments are not a one-size-fits-all-thing. It depends on the pre-existing relationship between subject and object. When you get the right frame adjustment, we can transform the mundane into the magical.
If we wish to continually and intentionally reach awe states we must delve into the unknown / mystery / numinous. There we find new framings and relationships with the world. An orientation toward mystery keeps us nimble and flexible in life’s situations: an acceptance that we possibly don’t have the best handle on the moment but if we keep seeking we will find it.
Someone holding a strict scientific worldview may struggle with nihilism when science can’t answer all their questions. They may benefit from including spiritual ideas into their worldview which help fill that mysterious gap between the edge of science and the answers they seek.
4. Do you have any favourite authors, books, poets etc. who’ve inspired you over the course of cultivating more awe in the world?
Recently I’ve been diving into the teachings of Rob Burbea. Burbea taught many ideas that resonate with the philosophy of awe.
Alan Watts is awe-inspiring on his own but his talks regularly leave me stunned.
John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis is a brilliant lecture series explaining the philosophy and cognitive science behind modern life’s lack of meaning and how we can rediscover it.
5. Where can people find out more about your work?
You can download the app on iOS and Android from www.awe.fyi
If they wish to stay in touch best subscribe to our newsletter where I share thoughts on awe www.awe.fyi
We’ve also just wrapped up the first live cohort for Intentional Awe, a course designed to help people cultivate awe and wonder in their own lives. Those videos will be packaged up and shared in the coming weeks.