Last year a tangerine blew my mind.
The night was wet. Cold. Typical of London in the autumn. The kind of night you’d rather be eating hot soup with Netflix. But the monastics were in town.
My friend Cata invited me.
The event was routine. Meditation, talks, silence, sitting. Until it wasn’t.
They handed tangerines to everyone. Small orange balls. Slightly squidgy.
We held them. Rotated them. Admired them from all angles. Noted their imperfections. A dent here. A cut there. This spot was pale. That spot green.
“How does the tangerine feel?” the monk asked. “How does it smell?”
As my curiosity grew, the memory of the cold London streets fell away. I was intently focussed. My entire attention was on the experience I was having with this little orange fruit.
“Peel it. How does the skin tear?” they guided.
“Take a segment. How does it feel?” they probed.
“Put it in your mouth. How does it taste?” they led.
As the questions came the experience deepened. The walls of the mind both expanded to incorporate the intricate details of the whole experience whilst zoning in on each quality. Each imperfection as sweet as the tangerine tasted.
Gulp! The segment was gone.
But it wasn’t over. The monk changed tack.
“How did it get into your hands?” they inquired.
This seemingly innocent and unassuming question unravelled an experience I’m still wrestling with today.
My inner monologue went something like this:
“How did it get into my hands? Hmmm… Well, the monk just handed it to me, right? Yeah. But how did they get it? Probably from the supermarket. Tangerines don’t grow in London so it must have come from overseas. And it grew on a tree. And a flower! There must have been a flower. Oh, and a bee had to pollinate the flower. Bees live in hives. Plants need sunlight to grow. And the clouds brought rain for it to drink. So that juice in the tangerine was probably water in a cloud, on a mountain, in a river.
Ah, then a plane or a boat carried it. And…“
Oh god. The penny dropped.
I was fooled into thinking I was holding a tangerine. I wasn’t. I was holding the universe.
“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
– Alan Watts
How trite! For the spectator, maybe. But for the participant, anything but.
This tiny tangerine moment wasn’t so tiny. As I ate another segment, cherishing the tangerine’s sweetness, it dawned on me: our subjective taste sensation occurs only after countless preceding events. Each event seemingly insignificant on it’s own.
The exercise ended.
The doors opened to the soggy city streets which seemed different from before. The autumn gloominess had faded. The rainy evening seemed particularly beautiful, the journey of each raindrop uniquely precious. I walked to the tube speechless and happy. Like the tangerine's origin tree, I felt deeply rooted; even if my trousers were soaked.
I wrestled with the experience for the next few months. Profound, connected, endless: all adjectives I threw around. Ineffable. Psychedelic, perhaps? All I knew for certain was that everything made sense. There was no wrestling with the why or how, everything just was. Existential thoughts were nowhere to be seen.
It was awe. True awe.
Awe like mindfulness, gratitude and flow state, is a self-transcendent experience. We change from an egocentric perspective to an allocentric one. ‘I’ am not at the centre. And from this perspective shift, other psychological benefits arise.
Awe lifts our moods. It alters our perception of time. We feel interconnected. We become more open-minded: happier to deal with nuance and shades of grey.
True awe has two requirements.
Firstly, perceived vastness. The never-ending connections that came from this focal point, the tangerine, was a concept so much greater than myself. It was vast. I felt microscopic compared to the networked system of events and beings. A system that I was now involved too.
Secondly, a need for accommodation. This new realisation had to be fit in my worldview. If I hadn’t experienced it first hand, I wouldn’t have believed it: I’d be a sceptic. Perhaps you’re sceptical reading about this right now. “Impossible! A trivial tangy tangerine can’t transform worldviews!”
Yes, yes it did.
Unless I discarded the experience (some would call this betrayal), I’d have to configure my worldview to accept it. So I did, and here we are.
This is a tale of one awe experience, but I have many. You have many too.
Remember a time gazing from a mountainside across a valley. How did you feel? Calm, relaxed, awed.
Remember a time seeing a stranger complete a beautiful selfless act. What happened? Did you cry?
Remember a time listening to music at a concert. Was it a passive or active experience? 100% attentive, fixated, uplifted.
All of this left me wondering. How do we get more of these experiences? How do we remind ourselves of our insignificant but crucial place in the world? How do we regain our sense of awe & wonder?
My experience with the tangerine broke normal framing. I related to the tangerine differently. No longer simply food to shove down my throat. Once a frame is broken our minds open to new, larger frames, a process called trans-framing. Instead I related to the tangerine as a culmination of decisions, reactions, processes across time and planet. Could we replicate these experiences with different objects for equally profound awe experiences?
How might we relate differently to a tree, or a cloud, or an ant?
And how might alterations of our relationships to the 'trivial' affect our lives day-to-day?
Nature is the most effective elicitor of awe. Feeling dwarfed under a great oak: wow. Time slows. Troubles and worries sink away. But sadly as city populations expand, access to nature becomes harder and we lose our potential for spontaneous awe experiences.
At Awe, we’re leading people to think differently about their surroundings. To become re-enchanted with the world. And gosh, we need that more than ever this year.
Awe is the app to regain your sense of awe and wonder through awe-enhanced moments in nature. We lead you to deeply connect with nature to cultivate awe. Give yourself the highest quality time in nature.
We’re just starting our journey. Join us.
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