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  • Writer's pictureCristina Stone

Just Look Up

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

‘For years now we’ve been running like rabbits. We glimpse a flash of white tail, read the danger signal, and run, flashing our own white tail behind us. It’s a chain reaction....There is no one predator from which to escape; there are many. We are in the business of running now. It is all so urgent’

Katherine May- ENCHANTMENT: Reawakening wonder in an exhausted age


I first learnt about the phenomenon known as the Overview Effect, in Marjolijn van Heemstra’s book, In Light-Years There’s No Hurry: Cosmic Perspectives on Everyday Life, where she recounts her personal quest to experience this phenomenon on earth.

Rachel Lyons, the Executive Director of Space for Humanity(S4H) defines the phenomenon as ‘the cognitive shift that happens when astronauts go to space and look back down at our planet, and see it as a floating, interconnected, fragile ball of life in an infinite universe’.

The term ‘Overview Effect’ was first introduced by Frank White in his book by the same name, more than 25 years ago, and is now considered by many to be a seminal work in the field of space exploration. Using interviews and writings by astronauts, he shows how viewing the Earth from space profoundly affected their perceptions of themselves, the world and the future. In particular, the appreciation and perception of beauty, and an increased sense of connection to other people. A self-transcendent, awe-based experience with long lasting, positive changes in personal outlook.

But what is awe and how do we cultivate it?

Contemplating the thought that humans have the knowledge and means to leave the Earth safely, or how relatively small our beautiful planet is in the context of the whole universe is awe-inspiring indeed!

Awe is the emotion we feel when something extraordinary happens. Something that often comes from novelty (think of the first time you saw the sea, the time you witnessed an act of deep kindness, or when you met someone with an incredible ability) and while we know it when we feel it, it is not always easy to define.

In his book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life’, Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, describes awe as ‘the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world’.

His research suggests that awe is critical to our well-being (like joy, contentment and love), with tremendous health benefits. He maintains that that awe stimulates wonder, curiosity and innovation. He proposes that the vastness we feel in awe can destabilize previously held beliefs, making space for newthinking. He also maintains that people who find awe all around them ‘are more open to new ideas. To what is unknown. To what language can’t describe’.

According to Keltner, moments of awe can be found and fostered everyday if we look for them: ‘we cultivate awe through interest and curiosity’. He points out that awe has a lot of the same neurophysiology of deep contemplation, such as meditating and reflecting. As such, it is worth the effort to look for awe and wonder in our ordinary day.

He adds that intention, mindfulness and focus are essential for achieving awe. And that distraction is its enemy. On autopilot we forget and default to what troubles us.

When the demand on us goes beyond our ability to cope, stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are going to pervade and debilitate us. At these times, mobilising positive (non-avoidant) emotional coping mechanisms is key to finding our way back to calm, focus and clear thinking. These are some of the things that have worked for me:

  • Spending time in nature

  • Slowing down

  • Staying open and curious

  • Embracing the moment

  • Getting creative

Mindfulness is key, and is a foundational skill for finding more awe and wonder in your life. For being more aware, more awake and fully engaged. We were all born with a sense of wonder and, when we are awestruck, we tend to be more open to reevaluating our ideas and beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Are you open to inviting more awe and wonder into your daily life? What might you gain as a result? What would you need to change for that to happen? When could you start?

Best Wishes


Copyright ©️ CS Coaching. Photography by C Stone.

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