To Be Awesome, Feel Small

The bubbles and birds announced their presence and our anticipation mounted. The fins teased their magnificence, first the dorsal and then the tail. Then scores of humpback whales pierced the water’s surface, their heads rising high above the water to the pleasure of both the birds who shared in their feast and the viewers who shared in their glory.

And shortly after, one breached. Jumping fully out of the water to the shock and awe of all who watched. A feat, we were told, happens for reasons beyond us and only occurs on one out of fifty whale watching excursions. We were lucky and blessed.

I felt small in their presence, not due to their size but by the sheer wonder of a world where these creatures have existed for so long.

The reactions of those on the boat were consistent, the joy and awe of seeing whale after whale was overwhelming and universally humbling.

The breach happened without warning. Many missed it, including my daughters. A woman and her son, seeing the disappointment in my daughters’ faces, offered to not only show them a picture and video from their phone, but also to send them to us when they got back home.

This act of generosity was a personal confirmation of research I had seen showing that experiencing awe, especially in nature, creates a sense of a “small self,” which in turn promotes more positive behavior including generosity, compassion and love.

Going whale watching is, of course, not something you can do every day. But feeling awe in nature doesn’t require a 4-hour boat ride. It is all around us, in a flower, a bird, a tree, or in the sky.

Janine Benyus, biologist and innovator, once said in her TED Talk, “Imagine designing spring.” Wow.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us that we are “inhabitants of a small planet orbiting an unexceptional star,” and “because it takes time for the light from distant objects to reach Earth, everything we see in the sky belongs to the past.” Mind-blowing.

Nature has become too easily taken for granted. We seldom stop and see the roses, let alone smell them. This is a disservice to ourselves, our children and all those around us.

Want to do something big today? Start by finding a way to feel small.

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