Meditation is a tool that anyone can use to tap into a sense of calm as and when they need it. You can think of meditation almost as a ‘place’ that you can go to in order to get away from it all. The only difference is that this ‘place’ is always there, and you don’t have to leave your house!
But meditation is just one example of a tool we can use to ‘reset’ our mental state as it were. Another that is just as effective is to seek out moments of ‘awe’.
What do we mean by awe?
Essentially, any moment where you feel overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of what you’re seeing. Perhaps the most classic example is when you emerge at the top of a mountain hike to discover a beautiful vista unfolding beneath you. That moment where your breath is taken away – is a moment of awe.
So, what exactly is going on here? What’s the brain chemistry? Why is it good for us? And what is the evolutionary function of such a mood?
As far as the best guesses go, we now believe that this sense of awe is triggered by the release of hormones in response to a massive restructuring of the brain’s neural networks. In short, you suddenly feel ‘small’, and what you’re seeing is forcing you to rethink your position.
That’s why we can equally feel the same way when looking at something of supreme beauty, or when gazing at the stars. At this moment, the bar has been reset, and we are forced to look at things differently. The need for such restructuring will come with a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones that will support this change. And that’s what makes us feel good at that moment.
But in the long term, this is extremely good for us, because it helps us to restructure neural connections that might otherwise have been negative – and to get out of our own heads for a moment.
To put it another way, it’s a great way to get your life in perspective and to remember the grand scale of the world and the universe around you. It’s harder to think that the interview you have tomorrow is the worst thing in the world when you’re forced to remember that you are not even a speck on the cosmic canvas.
How can you experience awe?
One of the easiest ways to experience awe is to head out for a walk in nature because that’s one of the best places to experience something vastly beautiful that it may even make you change your perception. Instead of feeling like the most important person in the universe, you feel pleasantly insignificant but connected to the whole world.
The reason for this is while spending time outdoors, you open up mentally, physically, and even spiritually. You get the ability to reflect on emotions and sensations, to think deeply about a topic that amazes you or to feel something overwhelming like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. All these can be moments of awe.
But even while walking to get from point a to point you can take some deep breaths and increase your awareness what is happening around you. You begin to feel connected to something deeply authentic, like nature or humanity. You will become aware of the many beautiful things and moments your life has to offer; you will appreciate that life is a temporary gift. You will feel awed.
What other benefits offer walking
Walking, in general, is one of the most effective ways to improve your health, to calm your mind, and even to stimulate creativity. The reason is that walking is a slow-paced exercise which requires no effortful rational, logic thinking. When you go out for a short walk in your neighborhood, you usually don’t need to plan. It’s not necessary to figure out where you’re going, how to coordinate your feet, or what might happen to you. Walking is a low-threshold activity which won’t trigger any resisting thoughts but allows your mind to wander and explore new topics.
That is the reason why for famous people like Einstein, Beethoven, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky a daily walk was sacred and that’s when many of them had break-through ideas.
The reason is human evolution: in the wild, the sight of lush green trees or water meant we were approaching supplies and shelter. Today just looking at the color green alone is said to have calming effects and to lower your heart rate.Walking in nature like in a beautiful forest or on a fantastic beach along the seaside will most likely make you feel even more relaxed, which in turn stimulates further creativity.
Why walking improves your sleep
Walking outdoors is, of course, also a fantastic way to enhance your overall health. Exercising in the fresh air boosts your energy up and helps to burn some extra calories/fat. You also increase your production of vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D helps you to maintain healthy bones and teeth. But even more importantly, it protects you against a range of severe conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
And there are the benefits of exercising in fresh air for your sleep. Breathing clean, fresh air is more important for your rest than you might think. A healthy airflow in your bedroom is one thing. But remember there is more oxygen outside than there is inside your bedroom where you’re in an enclosed space, having to recycle the oxygen into carbon dioxide.
More oxygen leads to an increase in serotonin. As the precursor for melatonin, serotonin helps to regulate your internal clock and your body’s sleep-wake cycles. It also makes you feel happy and relaxed, all the good things you need for high-quality sleep and to wake up fully refreshed the next day.
So, free up some time as often as you can to head out for a walk in nature to watch the sunset or the sunrise, observe the flowers, or listen to the birds. It’s good for your soul, for your health, and your sleep. Plus it will give you plenty of opportunities to experience that wonderful feeling of being overwhelmed by the pure beauty of nature – awe.