Awe without Shock: The Nature of Awesome!

Little Guru - AweWhile psychology for the first hundred years of its existence as an academic discipline has very much focused on the negative spectrum of human emotions (fear, guilt, anger etc.), positive psychology looks mostly to the favorable end of that range. On the very far side of the positive sphere lies an emotion which hasn´t really gotten a lot of attention – until one of our MAPP lecturers, Jonathan Haidt, came along. This is emotion is awe. You can see what awe looks like on the face of the Little Guru. It´s a picture I took while he was watching his first display of fireworks ever. You can sense the unique blend of joy, fascination – and fear.

The element of fear marks the crucial difference compared to my wife´s facial expression: she´s seen a lot of fireworks in her life, so she´s just delighted; the angst is missing. Here´s what Haidt has to say on awe in an academic paper on that subject:

Two appraisals are present in all clear cases of awe: perceived vastness and a need for accommodation, defined as an inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structures.

Furthermore: “Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways”. In addition, Haidt lists five appraisals that account for the “hedonic tone” of the awe experience:

  • threat
  • beauty
  • exceptional ability
  • virtue
  • supernatural

So obviously we can experience awe e.g., via beholding forces of nature, a beautiful piece of artRoger Federer playing tennis, by experiences such as might have happened to Paul (a.k.a. Saul), and also by witnessing acts of great virtue – as in this video of Team Hoyt (get a Kleenex first if you´ve never seen this before…).

If you´d like to learn more: Jonathan was featured on Oprah a while ago – and he also gave a TED talk touching these issues by the name of “Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence”:

News from Little Guru: Never ever give up! Excel, then celebrate your Victory!

When you´re attending a seminar on coaching, training, positive psychology, or ‘self-help’ in general, there´s this 90% likelihood that at a certain point, the facilitator will talk about learning. In order to ‘open up’ the minds of the participants, most workshop hosts will use the (in-)famous ‘baby analogy’. They will give a talk on how babies learn to walk: by getting up, falling down, getting up again, falling down again, getting up again, …., you get the picture.

The message is: babies are not afraid to fail. The ‘just do it’. Thing is: I´ve had at least 2.500 hours of different courses in the abovementioned areas over the last years – so I tend to get a little tired of hearing the same story all over again.
But:

Now I kind of received this live demonstration. Below you´ll find a video* of the Little Guru that my wife sent to me while I was at work. It (presumably) shows the first time ever that the Little Guru has managed to sit up all by himself. He tries once, falls down, tries again – and then he succeeds. Even more important: Little Guru not only shows persistence. He also takes his time to savor the victory…

This is a fast-paced life. We rush from task to task, meeting to meeting, job to job. Most of the time, there´s a lot of things that will go well along the way. Do we really take enough time to cherish what went well?

* Please excuse the vertical video syndrome.

News from Little Buddha: Mindfulness

Buddha_MindfulnessI am almost a little bit jealous. The likes of us have to read hundreds of books, visit seminar after seminar, or torment ourselves with seemingly infinite meditation sessions in order to find enlightenment – and in the end, all I experience is something like the equivalent of a stained 20-watt light bulb shortly before kicking the bucket. And Junior? Seems he´s already blessed with all the gifts.

Take, e.g., the fine art of mindfulness: I have spent hour after hour observing my breath (and besides, “embracing” the increasing pain in my knees), but for me it is still perplexingly difficult to restrain my monkey mind – up to the point where I consider basically not being born for experiencing silence of the mind.

In contrast, the Little Buddha easily manages to observe his own feet for more than 30 minutes in a row – and is so absorbed that you would not be surprised if he started to levitate a couple of inches above the floor. It must be so incredibly exciting to experience everything for the very first time. It´s a pity he will not be able to remember all these first times in a couple of years from now…

I have a new Guru!

Little Guru - Unconditional LoveHe is approximately 73 cm tall and weighs roughly 8 kg. His superhuman abilities: breathing, sleeping, crying, farting – and most of all: smiling…

I am talking about our son Mika of course. I´m sure I will have to teach him a lot over the next twenty years (or so). But in return, he has already taught me something which I had heard of a lot of times over the last ten years, during an estimated 2,500 hours of courses in coaching and therapy, from secular and spiritual teachers; and read about in innumerable books. But I have never felt it fully until now: Unconditional Love.

During the workweek, I typically only have half an hour with him in the evening to read a bedtime story and put him to bed. When he falls asleep in my arms eventually, his head halfway hidden under my chest, one hand on my side, the other one straight on my heart, with infinite trust, a feeling of profound peace and stillness comes over me.*

I always knew I wanted to have kids. Not wanting to have children somehow appears “unnatural” to me. In this spirit, to all the people out there who (willingly) do not want to have offspring: I´m positively sure you´ll be missing out on all the best…

*I hope that I will be able to preserve this attitude, even if he – just like his father – will flunk his first math test in 8th grade; or if he – in spite of my deep love for Heavy Metal – perhaps will dig ridiculous German Ghetto Rap (Yes, that does exist!) instead…