Life is Awesome

“We are all equal in awe.” ~ Steven Spielberg

In his book Awe, Prof Dacher Keltner says that cultivating a sense of awe in our daily lives—if only fleetingly—is the key to a more meaningful life. Awe is fundamental to what he calls the eight wonders of life: the strength, courage and kindness of others; collective movement in actions like dance and sports; nature; music, art and visual design; mystical encounters; encountering life and death; and big ideas or epiphanies.

Awe quietens the ego, empowering us to collaborate, to open our minds to wonders, and to see the deep patterns of life. “Why awe?” Keltner asks. “Because in our distal evolution as very social mammals, those individuals who united with others in awe-like patterns of behavior fared well in encounters with threats and the unknown. And because in the more proximal calculus of thriving in the present, awe brings joy, meaning, and community, along with healthier bodies and more creative minds.” There’s no mention of how evil men like Goebbels used awe to destructive ends, but that’s another story.

My favourite chapter is “Sacred Geometries,” which focuses on the visual arts. Among its many other virtues, art creates an aesthetic distance, a safe space, from which we can consider the horrors humans perpetrate, including war. “Within this safe space of the imagination,” Prof Keltner writes, “we are free to wonder, to think in broader, more open ways about how the act fits within the moral frameworks that define our communities.” Art allows us not only to contemplate such horrors together, but also to transcend them.

Reading this book, I found myself reflecting upon–and appreciating more deeply–the inimitable experience that is working with Volydymyr Olshynetskyi. I’m especially awed by his seemingly effortless ability to transform a half-baked idea into something extraordinary.

Take, for example, Believe in Peace—probably the most awe-inspiring piece in our collection. We began working on this last May, when Volodymyr was hunkered down in the embattled city of Mykolaiv. Hundreds of people had just been evacuated from a steel plant that was the last holdout in Mariupol, a city under relentless Russian bombardment. A Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv had reached the Russian border, forcing the enemy’s retreat. UNICEF warned that up to 600,000 additional children worldwide could be left without access to life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition due to the rising costs of raw ingredients fueled by the Ukraine war. Sweden and Finland had just announced their intention to join NATO.

The Believe in Peace series kicked off with a random idea–inspired by Volodymyr’s passion for street art–and finished with a “wow”–the definitive expression of awe.

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