An audio rendition of my article "The Horizons of Meaning"
Meaninglessness is a blank canvas. It alienates one to the world around them. The whole world looks grey. Stripped of color and dominated by routine, one mundane task after the other. One lives solely to fulfill the demands of the other, whether it is for their parents, employers or society. Meaninglessness closes the door to the world of possibilities that life can offer.
It is only through creativity where meaning begins to shine through the cracks.
Meaning is the immersion in the infinite space of creativity. It enables one to view the whole world like an artist. Every moment that arises is raw materials for one’s creation. Both suffering and joy are equal opportunities to embrace and connect to the richness of life.
It comes to a person spontaneously like a flash of insight. One is compelled to create.
An idea that requires nurturing through actions which authentically connect to the inner depths of their being. It can be through working on a piece of art, writing a new poem or any activity which requires you to be an active participant in the world around you.
Life is no longer governed by indifference, but a sense of aliveness that comes with being connected to one’s own creation.
Freedom emerges in the horizon.
As we follow our path, we are transformed into our authentic selves – who we truly are, and who we ought to be.
Take a deep breath. Open your eyes and observe what is around you.
Look at the sun beaming through the blossoming trees. Listen to the birds singing ecstatically with feverous joy. Touch the different textures of plants in your garden as you await a bountiful feast upon harvest.
We didn’t earn the pleasures of the awe inspiring world that we were born into. Rather they were freely available to us upon birth. They are gifts.
Life is a gift.
We are all born as helpless infants, dependent on our parents or caregivers for our day to day survival. They’ve fed us, nourished us and did the best they could to get us to where we are today.
Our lives are shaped from the generosity of others, and sustained through the abundance and blessings of nature.
When you look at things from this vantage point, you begin to feel a sense of immense gratitude. Your heart pours out with joy. The crude individualism that is revered in our culture begins to slowly fade away. How could we, in good faith, remain in a state of arrogance and greed if we truly recognize all that we were given in this life.
As we become aware and grateful of the many gifts our world provides, we are called to give back. We give with generosity, without demanding anything in return, because we are appreciative of all that we have received.
Each of us is unique and can offer our distinct gifts to the world.
As the writer and activist Charles Eisenstein notes, we are all born into a world of abundance. We are more than separate selves viscously competing for limited resources. Rather, as we’ve become increasingly aware, all of us are deeply connected through various different systems. We all reside in a single ecosystem, and on a deeper level we all share the same fate.
Imagine the world we could aspire to, the community we could create and waste we would reduce if we all embraced this fundamental truth of connection and co-dependency. Relationships would flourish and our bond to the earth would be restored as we prioritize people over things.
So, what gift is in you to give? What do you want to do to connect with others and work towards a more beautiful world?
Let me know in the comments.
This repost from an article I submitted last week on Pointless Overthinking.
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.