The Inspiration of Awe

I’m covered in crescent moons.

Sitting in the shade, they cover my skin and body as the moon moves over the sun.
I can’t stop smiling!
The light starts to shift, and I can feel it coming. Everyone can. The moment we have been waiting for.
I make my way to the blanket and lay down next to my aunt and stare straight up.
The birds go silent, and the crowd gasps.

Totality

Day into night, night into day. I take off my special glasses, lay them on my chest, exclaiming,
Oh my gosh
Oh my gosh
Oh my GOSH!
I start to giggle, my whole body and mind  engaged in this moment, this incredible miracle,
A total eclipse of the sun.
I’ve never seen one before. And the main feeling?
Awe.
By definition:
an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.
Have you ever felt this?
What were you doing and what did you see?
What did it inspire you to create?
Carolyn Gregoire of the HuffPost writes:
“Psychologists have only recently begun to pay attention to the complicated and varied emotion of awe. In a foundational 2003 paper, psychologists Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University outlined how exactly awe works and what effect it has on us. Awe consists of two qualities, Keltner and Haidt say: perceived vastness (something we think to be greater than ourselves), and accommodation, a need to assimilate the experience of vastness into one’s current mental structure.
 
It’s an emotion that can have a tremendous impact. “Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways,” they write.”
It took days for me to fully process the experience of seeing the eclipse. We had no cloud cover, and I just kept feeling as though I had witnessed something very special.
Laying on the grass in Santee, South Carolina, with a whole crowd, with a whole campsite, heck…with the whole country…I felt I was indeed part of something much larger.
Turns out, this is exactly what we need as Artists. 
Awe actually brings great emotional benefits. Here’s three main ones:
1) Awe improves our relationship with time.
A 2012 Stanford study found that when people experience awe, they are more likely to feel they are “rich” with time. They have plenty of it! The researchers heard statements like,
I have lots of time to get things done!
Time is expanded.
Imagine what you could get done on your Creative projects with THAT mindset!
Imagine kicking Overwhelm to the curb and feeling calm in your day, as you do the work you love so much and see the results you desire.
In another study, the researchers asked people to write about an awe inspiring experience and another group to write about a happy experience. Those writing about the awe-inspiring experience reported an expanded sense of time, while the other group did not.
Place your attention on Awe. Get out in nature, watch an incredible video, go see that work of art or watch that performer that leaves you speechless.
2) Awe can boost your Creativity
We have all stood witness to works of art that were inspired by Awe. Think of Ansel Adams breathtaking landscape photography, or a moving memoir from a life-changing event.
As Artists we have the ability to TRANSLATE our experiences into art for our audience. It’s when our audience goes on this journey with us, that the true magic happens. They bond with you, and want to return again and again, forming a relationship all based on the fact you took that awe-inspiring experience and brought it to life through words, paint, song, or dance.

“A 2012 study from Tel Aviv University found that “expansive thinking” could lead to boosts in creativity. According to the study’s lead researcher, “outward” rather than “inward”-focused thinking helped children to consider different perspectives and see beyond their present situation.

In the study, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, beginning with local objects such as a pencil sitting on the desk in front of them, and progressing to vast or faraway things, like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group of children was showed the images in the opposite order, from expansive to immediate. The children in the group that progressed from local to expansive images performed significantly better on a test of creativity directly after looking at the images than the children who looked at nearby images last.”

3) Awe can literally transform you

“1964, psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated his famous theory of “peak experiences” — instances of near-mystical rapture and wonder in the everyday. His description clearly involves an element of awe, and he suggests that “peak” experiences of awe can be transformative, and indeed, life-changing. By Maslow’s description, peak experiences involve “disorientation in space and time, ego transcendence and self-forgetfulness; a perception that the world is good, beautiful and desirable.” He believed that this change in perception — a sort of epiphany — could have transformational effects.”

Remember that your Art is an expression of you. Your art expresses what you believe, your perceptions, and your experience. If you ultimately believe in goodness, that is translated not only to your art, but to your audience.

Your audience wants to feel good.

It’s this bond that makes your audience return again and again. This is what creates raving fans.

If you’re shut down and have no hope or belief in humanity, that will translate into your art and cut off any chance of connection. The seats will be empty, and you will only feel isolated.

Isolation shuts us down as Artists. We need to expand.

Want to cultivate that belief in yourself and transform into the most powerful Artist you can be?

Expose yourself to Awe.

You may find yourself covered in magical crescent moons, smiling for the world to see.

The Creative Thread

Gift Bag

I quickly throw down my yoga mat in the front row, having just made it in time for class. With the best intentions to arrive early, the NYC subway had other ideas.

Facing my teacher Ali, I sit elevated on my blanket, folded over so my tight hips can release and my knees rest. I sweep my hair into a ponytail grabbing the tie from my wrist, and settle just as she begins to speak.

I need this today.

“So, I cleaned out my closet, which is great, but now all the bags of clothes are in my living room…”

She recounts the story of her mother coming over and trying to find a place to sit, compassionately saying, “You will move these things all in due course.”

As Ali looked at her mother unable to fully relax in her home, her answer came clearly.

“No”

Ali knew in that moment there was one thing she could do. She could take one of the bags that was set aside for a friend and deliver it to her. Or she could take one of the bags that was set aside for Salvation Army and drop it off.

So she did.

And she felt so good about accomplishing this simple task, she went to the grocery store to buy some rice, and smiled at another shopper who was having a bad day.

What happened for that shopper?

Maybe she went home and hugged her husband, or called a friend, or sat and played with her dog. She took the kindness that was shown to her, and passed it on. Ali not only touched a stranger, she touched all who the stranger came in contact with, and a chain was begun.

All this from a bag of clothes.

 

I remember sitting in the audience for the Tony award winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I was with a close friend and during intermission, we turned to each other, almost too stunned to utter much more than,

“I LOVE this…”

Curious Case w Ali

I was at an artistic buffet of collaboration, ensemble work, brilliant staging, and focused storytelling. I witnessed the bare stage turning into a grid the lead could literally draw on, sitting at the edge of my seat, giddy with discovery.

I felt I was seeing not only the creativity of the original author, but what each member of this production had brought forth.

The ensemble played different roles and created the environment. They were the chairs, the doors, and even the emotional states for the protagonist as he progressed through his fears. They lifted him and turned him upside down.

I walked out inspired. I walked out with a visual playing in my head, and a desire to create.

 

Months after, I was hired to choreograph the Zarzuela El Laurel de Apolo for Repertorio Espanol, and when the director began to speak about how we were going to turn Daphne into a tree, I felt myself sitting on the edge of my seat again.

The little seed that had been growing since seeing Curious Incident was planted in the minds of my director, lighting designer, and set designer. As I began to throw out ideas, their eyes lit up, and soon we were all throwing water and fertilizer into the pot.

It began to grow and take shape.

Our first rehearsal with the ensemble on forming the tree, I shared my vision, and invited the cast to play. They accepted with glee and gratitude, and their energy was high.

Now they were a part of the process too.

Our closing night of El Laurel de Apolo, we had to turn people away. The show was sold out, and the audience stood with vigor and joy, clapping at the end.

Daphne Tree

There was a brightness in the theatre, from the stage to the seats, a thread from the bowing of the cast and creative team, to the patrons.

I stood, looking out from the stage, acknowledging the audience, but also remembered clapping with the same vigor months ago at what began this journey for me.

I wonder what the audience members did when they went home?

 

We have a great opportunity as artists, to reach an audience with our stories, our songs, our paintings, and dance. We have the opportunity to connect and create a thread.

What if we approached our art this way, with one simple step?

What if we looked at the seed in order to create the whole?

Sometimes, it won’t be linear, and in fact may be a map going out in all directions, but the effect will be the same whether it’s what we receive from a smile or from the lights lowering as we settle into our seats. And the possibilities of how many lives it will touch is endless.

You actually possess a great power. Did you know you set so much in motion with one action?

You choose the beginning.

So, what is the one thing you can do today, and what can you receive as inspiration?

IMG_9394