Some Awe!

I was struck this week by the comparison of the size of an atom. If the proton at the centre of an atom were the size of an apple, the electron that is floating around it would be the size of sugar cube and be spinning in an orbit two kilometres away from the apple. The rest of the ‘sphere’ that makes up an atom is, as far as we know, empty space. The presenter I watched went onto emphasize that an atom is 99.99999999999999999% empty. A whole lot of nothing!

I read recently that our body is made up of about 100 trillion cells and each cell is made up of about 100 trillion atoms. That multiplies up to: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms (28 zeros there) or to make it easier, 10 Octillion atoms (thank-you Siri), in the average human body. But if this is true, then my body is also 99.99999999999999999% empty space. So why do most of us believe that the body and everything around it is solid? Perhaps there something filling the space that I think must be empty? Perhaps it is filled with energy, vibrations, dark matter? Perhaps solidity is an illusion, as is all of reality. Einstein said so, but he qualified it by saying that it was a persistent illusion. Thinking like this causes me to pause and think deeply and wonder.

Hubble Photo of the Cosmos

For me, this is a moment of Awe. I am struck by the wonder of it all. Where there is virtually nothing, I can sense a whole world. When quantum physicists got together with cosmologists, they discovered that the images they saw when looking into an electron microscope and looking through a powerful telescope were pretty much the same: a lot of empty space dotted by the tiniest of lights. This is incredible! This leaves me in a state of disbelief and yet at the same time, full of wonder at this truth. The British expression, ‘Gobsmacked’ fits here. It’s somewhere in between Homer Simpson’s ‘Doh!’ and Archimedes’ cry ‘Eureka!’ Yes, gobsmacked: the wonderment and astonishment of it all.

I watched a video last week on YouTube presented by Andrew Kirby. He’s a young chap from the UK I discovered last year when I was looking for information on Stoicism. In this video he said he believes being filled with a sense of awe can affect our lives even more powerfully than gratitude. When we are in a state of awe, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of something far, far greater than ourselves. We feel extremely small and insignificant relative to it. Perhaps you’re at the top of a cliff looking down at the waves crashing down below, sitting quietly inside a magnificent cathedral or gazing into the eyes of the Mona Lisa. And even though we sense how great this thing is and how infinitesimal we are, we still feel a deep connection to it.

Raphael’s School of Athens, Vatican City

When I was on the tour of the Vatican Museum years ago, we were escorted through room upon room of many of the great works of art: oils, sketches, frescoes, sculptures. There is so much art that great artworks lose their significance; it’s just one more Titian or another Michelangelo. I was following the crowds going at a fairly quick pace through gallery upon gallery when I turned. There before me was Raphael’s masterpiece, The School of Athens. Having studied art history as well as having studied the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, I knew the fresco. I had seen photos of it, heard about it’s significance to art, to the politics and to competing philosophies at the time. And there it was! I wasn’t expecting to see it. I didn’t know it was in the Vatican Palace. And suddenly, there it was in all of its eight by five metres renaissance splendor! I was filled with awe: a feeling of reverential respect mixed with wonder or fear (thank you Oxford Dictionary). And I was connected to the subject, to the artist, to the ideas expressed and to the moment, a moment that, obviously, has stayed with me ever since. I couldn’t say anything; I was gobsmacked!

Yes, we hear the word ‘awesome’ so often that most of its true meaning has been sucked out of it. It is still a good word to use in situations like this. When I am at the cliff edge staring down, I have a feeling that goes beyond being grateful to experience this moment. It’s a ‘be still and know’ kind of moment. It’s a ‘OMG’ kind of moment. It a ‘being completely in the now’ moment. It is a very humbling moment and a deeply spiritual moment.

Photo by Xiaoyu Chen on Pexels.com

We need more of these awe-some moments in our lives. We can seek those moments out. Find a place to live that inspires you. Visit the Grand Canyon, climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, witness the miracle of birth, watch a flower unfold. Discover places and moments that fill you with awe in the truest sense of the word.

And what will this do for us? How does being full of awe help us? We connect. We step back. We relate. We are grateful. We are happy to have been a part of this experience that no video or still, no description nor writing and no telling could ever completely encompass; a moment that will impress feelings and emotions so deeply into our psyche that it can never be erased. We will have a sense that in some respects, although we are insignificant, and realizing that there may be more stars in the heavens than there are atoms in our bodies, we have communed with the divine.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Find your awe!

Health in a Time of Corona

For the past six months we have been living in a world of uncertainty. In truth, we always have, but today with the Corona virus lurking in unknown corners, we feel the stress and anxiety of the unknown getting us down emotionally, spiritually and physically. However, I believe that there are decisions we can make and actions we can take to keep positive, lift our spirits and boost our strength.

I am not expert. I am not a doctor. I have no guru credentials either. I have spent the last five months, since the reality of our world situation came into a sharp focus, informing myself through books and media about my options. I’ve learned that over the past couple of generations, our focus of control has shifted from within, to external factors. I get my health from a doctor. My emotions from social media. My spirituality is often ignored. We have opted for ‘likes’ and pills, forgetting that real health, in body, mind and spirit comes from within and that all three are connected. There is no magic elixir that can cure all that ails us.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have learned that I can take my health back into my own hands. I have learned that our reliance on mass food production, processed foods, along with slick marketing and labeling practices have fooled us into believing that the chemicals we are eating is food. Sugar consumption continues to climb and with it, obesity rates, insulin resistance and diabetes. Processed foods are packaged enticingly, belying their contents. Nutrition has become a secondary element of our trip to the grocery store. Our lifestyle has become sedentary and we don’t have the ‘energy’ to even go for a walk because we are not getting enough energy in our diet. We are living in a world where a child born today will have a life expectancy that is less than his grandparents. Our emotional and spiritual health suffer as well because we do not know or have forgotten how to nourish them because we isolate ourselves behind closed doors and digital screens.

I have learned that I must inform myself, make decisions for myself and act on those decisions. I believe that the best approach overall health is to address all three facets of our humanity: body, mind and spirit. What I am evolving is a program of physical, mental and spiritual fitness that is working for me. I will add and subtract items as I gain more understanding. A road doesn’t have to be paved and painted to get me to where I want to go. As long as I continue to investigate and learn, improvements will continue.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, what is my program? I have membership at a gym because I know I prefer to exercise in the company of others: they inspire me. I average four, 40 minute workouts a week. It’s enough to work each major muscle group once a week. I began a keto diet to reduce weight get myself out of the ‘overweight’ category of fitness. Mentally, I have drastically reduced the time I spent on YouTube and Netflix and I am concentrating on reading more books, both fiction and non-fiction for entertainment and information. I am also listening to informative podcasts, videos and online classes. And spiritually, I have developed a meditation practice that both keeps me grounded here and connects me with Consciousness.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

Before Covid 19 appeared on the horizon I was doing little to contribute to my overall health and well-being. I am now more than 10 kilos lighter. I’ve read more books in the last six months than I had read in the last two years. I can’t imagine my day without a spiritual practice, usually meditation. I have more energy, feel greater self confidence, and am more connected than I have been in many, many years. As an added benefit, I believe that by improving my overall health, I have fortified my immune system as well. It may not prevent me from contracting any virus or disease, but it will give me a far greater chance of battling it successfully.

I share these small bits of information to encourage others to seek their own answers and to discover their own definition of ‘health’. I am grateful for this ‘isolation’ time that I have been given to make these lifestyle changes. I know that these feelings of optimism, strength and happiness will continue as I push forward in my quest for knowledge and understanding as we continue through this uncertain time of Corona.

For further investigation:

The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani

Personality Isn’t Permanent, by Benjamin Hardy

Science and Spiritual Practices, by Rupert Sheldrake

www.mindvalley.com

Meditation…

I have tried meditation various times over the years and just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. You see, I cannot fold myself into the lotus position, at least not without breaking at least one leg. And sitting cross-legged is also very difficult for me, especially after more that just a couple of minutes. So I figured if my body wasn’t designed to do meditation. I know this was just an excuse but I never really gave it much of a serious thought or any sort of a concerted effort.

There are many methods of meditation. As a teenager, I remember that Transcendental Meditation (TM) was big. Everyone who was anyone was taking the course and learning their mantras. For most North Americans, it was the first time Eastern philosophy was ever discussed and practiced. Later, other practices of meditation were sought out and taught. Some meditate by focusing on their breathing. Others focus on an object, or use prayer beads to quiet their minds. I like Eastern spirituality and I understand the appeal of Buddhism and its teachings. But the Buddhas, the gongs, the incense, its prayer wheels and flags, could not keep me in a practice of meditation. And yet, I knew that I wanted it, and probably needed it!

Why do people meditate? It relaxes the body and mind, thereby reducing the negative stress and anxiety that we experience. As well, scientific research is proving that it has a physiological effect on the body. It can change our body chemistry, releasing dopamine and other ‘feel good’ molecules into our bloodstream. Creativity, attention and memory are positively influenced. You don’t have to meditate for hours on end to enjoy the benefits and they last long after the quiet time we spend. Meditation changes you: body and soul! (Forbes Magazine: 7 Ways Meditation can Actually Change the Brain.)

So even though I knew about all these benefits, it wasn’t until a good friend of mine introduced me to a book by Sam Harris: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, that everything finally clicked into place for me. I still haven’t finished the book but I appreciate his very practical approach to spirituality and to meditation. I downloaded the meditation app and started using its guided meditations. I think it’s about ten free sessions before they ask you to pay up, but for me, it is well worth it. I finished the 50, ten minute beginner sessions and now usually use the daily meditation, between 10 and 20 minutes long.

After more than three months, meditation is part of my morning routine, along with daily writing and, of course, coffee. Do I see and feel the benefits? While I can’t say that I feel my brain cells growing and changing, I can say that I appreciate the calm, the quiet, and the peace. Some days it takes longer than others to calm the thoughts and focus on just breathing. It’s common that I find myself deep in some thought and Sam’s voice will reach out of the silence to tug me back to this moment. There are days where I become mesmerized by the dance of colours that I see behind my eyelids. Fortunately, there’s no graduation from this practice. It is a daily practice that I invite you to enjoy as much as I do.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Find what type of meditation works best for you. If you want to sit cross-legged and burn incense, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. You need only find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments. And you can meditate at any time of the day. Hey, if you find that you really do ‘wake up’ at the end of the session, you won’t be the first to have fallen asleep. There is no wrong way. There is only the embrace of the stillness that is within us all.

I first heard this ‘prayer’ in the Waking Up sessions. I have incorporated it into my daily practice. And it is my wish for you:

May you be happy.   
May you be free from suffering.   
May you know peace.