Scientists have now proven that in a number of important respects following the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions can lead to improved physical and mental health – and in fact can improve our overall happiness. And in particular, gratitude and awe have been found to not just be things we ‘should’ aspire to, to make us ‘better people but are ‘good for us’ in other ways.
While I haven’t researched this in any detail, my understanding is that practices such as gratitude and awe are part of all the main ancient spiritual traditions.
And gratitude and awe were on my mind today as I walked the ‘Fern Walk’ in the Pohangina Valley.
I was grateful on a number of fronts – part of my plan in leaving Massey was to have a bit more time to do things with my partner, Ian. He is a member of a Wednesday tramping group. My goal is to join some of these trips when I am a bit fitter. Today’s trip was part of building my fitness. It was a big deal for me because …
Firstly, it was on a ‘’school day” or would have been, if I’d still been in my ‘day job’. This resulted in an extra feeling of appreciation and gratitude, and that wonderful feeling of being more of a free agent. Secondly I was grateful that I’d managed to force myself to go walking today. I was very tempted to put off getting started with ‘Wednesday tramps’ until I had got on top of more of the groundwork needed right now for the Change Academy. But I’m aware that if I don’t change my routine now, it would be very easy to just fall back into the same busy-ness I was used to in my waged job. So, pat on the back for me. I am feeling a tad overwhelmed with all the work I have in front of me for the next few weeks, but I ‘felt the overwhelm and did it (tramping) anyway”.
And what a day it was. Such a stunningly clear and sunny day – and maybe the sun seemed to shine brighter because it felt a bit like ‘wagging school’!
It was very wet and muddy underfoot because of the recent rain and snow. Having to slow down so much in my attempt to avoid the mud where I could, would on some other occasions have felt frustrating, but today I was able to switch perspectives and enjoy the slowness – perhaps because I’m still a bit in the ‘holiday feeling’ of having finished my waged job.
I found that the verse from Psalm 118 “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” was often in my mind (not that I knew where the quote was from – I googled it just now!) Whether or not you are a Christian or follow a different spiritual or wisdom tradition, or you think this stuff is all a load of baloney, I am sure you will have had that same sense at times – “This is an awesomely wonderful day; we will rejoice and be glad in it”. The dappled light through the trees, the sunlight, the beauty of the ferns – it was all stunning.
And the third focus of my gratitude was the wonderful person / people who had been out and cleared the track. There was a lot of tree damage from the snowfall of last Wednesday / Thursday. That is only a few days ago. There are still roads that haven’t been re-opened, but somebody had cleared this track. I don’t know whether it was a Department of Conservation staff member or a volunteer (this track was originally formed by a dedicated group of volunteers), but I was very grateful to whoever it was.
I gather, according to science, that my body would have been benefiting from all that gratitude! So not only did it make for an enjoyable day, but it was ‘good for me’!
And on top of that was a good dose of awe. The beauty of our native bush. From the giant trees to the miniature wonders such as fungi. The amazing vistas, the stunning beauty of my surroundings. Again, this added exponentially to the day. And, as with the experience of gratitude, not only did it make for an enjoyable day, but it would have been ‘good for me’ in terms of my health.