Friday, May 13, 2016

AWE - go and find it!

Recently, I’ve come across numerous articles about cultivating awe and how the regular practice of experiencing awe positively impacts our overall health and happiness, and deepens our connections with others and our world. 

The particular definition of awe that I am referring to is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast, bigger than ourselves, deeply inspiring, and maybe even beyond the grasp of our understanding of the world.

From an evolutionary standpoint, neuroscience suggests “Awe binds us to social collectives and enables us to act in more collaborative ways that enable strong groups, thus improving our odds for survival. Awe embeds the individual self in a social identity." Dacher Keltner Ph.D.

As a father, husband and business owner, I am aware of how engaged our lives have become with technology. On a daily basis, I experience first hand the struggles of pulling my children and myself away from it’s grasp, and instead, directing our attention toward more time in nature, and time connecting with one another in meaningful ways. Despite knowing it’s important, it’s not easy balancing where I focus my energy and the energy of my family. 

Until I spent some time really thinking about it, I was inclined to think that awe just showed up. It was just one of those moments that occurred by happenstance, in an unpredictable nature. And that I was just fortunate to notice it when it came my way. 

As I’ve learned more about awe, I’ve come to take a different approach. Instead of sitting and waiting for it to randomly appear, I've learned to seek out experiences and environments that manifest awe. I can practice placing myself into environments, and putting myself into experiences, that create awe for me. 

Since thinking of awe in this way, I've noticed a multitude of possible experiences and environments that personally manifest awe for me. A hike up Jesusita Trail to Inspiration Point. Watching my daughters play sports or run track. An inspiring YouTube Video. A school play. Listening to music. Wind blowing the leaves in the maple tree we planted when my youngest daughter was born. Artwork. The moon and the stars. Dolphins. The family picture books on our coffee table. The first bloom of the roses in my front yard. Harvesting vegetables from our garden. The ocean. Sunset. Sunrise.

I can simply choose to put myself into those places, situations, relationships and activities. I can schedule these experiences into my week, as excursions, events or practices. By myself or with my family. And this will cultivate awe. Which can lead to more curiosity, deeper connections, and improved health and happiness. 

It's a win-win-win scenario. More excitement and enthusiasm today. More depth and meaning today, and tomorrow. Improvements in my longevity, happiness, overall health and well-being today, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow. 

Sounds like it’s time to go find some awe…

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Open Walk

I read an article this morning about the art of walking, it's connection to thinking, and how we in the modernized world are losing our love of what the author refers to as the 'purposeless walk'. The article referred to walking in the West as a luxury, because of all our available modes of transportation. It went on to say that walking for any distance is usually a planned activity or a health aid, or something we do to help us lose weight or improve our fitness.  

Having spent more than two decades in the health and fitness industry, I've experienced first-hand how many of us set out on walks for the purpose of improving our fitness, or walk on a treadmill to burn a specific number of calories in hopes of controlling our weight, or errand-walk as I call it, throughout our day in order to achieve a certain number of daily steps on our Fitbits. But how many of us actually go for a daily walk to simply connect with ourselves, our bodies, our thoughts, our environment or to see what inspiration or idea might arise?

How many of us go for a walk, by ourselves, without a specific workout goal, or a distance, or a target? What if we were to do something different? What I am calling an OPEN WALK - a walk just to walk, to observe, to explore, or to connect with our minds, bodies, sensations, and environment.  

As I sit here writing this, after just enjoying my Open Walk, I see a mom, walking while pushing her baby in the stroller with her left hand, while simultaneously holding her black pug dog on leash, and talking on the phone with her right hand. She's marching along at a rapid pace, looking straight ahead, while talking to someone on the phone. I've been there. I get it. But could there be a different way? A different approach that might fulfill more of her needs? 

I walk around my neighborhood daily. Sometimes more than once a day. I've covered my same tracks hundreds if not thousands of times by now. Yet even this morning, I notice things for the first time. Today, I noticed a tree in someone's yard that I thought as I observed it, "Did they just put that in?" I realized it was an old tree, so no, they didn't just put it in. I also noticed the mountains, and the morning sun warming my skin and the temperature change between the sun and the shade. I also noticed some of my thoughts. How I began internally criticizing someone's choice for their paint color, or their new landscaping. And then I took a breath and reminded myself that each of us has different likes, unique tastes, and that what I like is just that - only what I like. And that is ok. 

And as I continued along my path this morning, breathing and feeling my body move, easily and quietly, observing and being open, the word "open" came into my mind. And thus, the name Open Walk, and hence this writing. As I write this, another woman, middle aged this time, walks by holding her phone in her left hand, headphones on, listening to something while she swings her arms marching along quickly and energetically. And I get her too. Exercise. Move that body. Pump that heart. Burn baby burn. 

Obviously, walks may take many shapes and have many forms. There isn't one right or wrong way. But, try what I call an Open Walk, by yourself. No phone or music or podcast. No agenda. No distance. No Fitbit. Just walk, be open. Observe. And see what happens for you.