“Clung to a ball that was hung in the sky; hurled into orbit - there you are.”
“Verge of a Miracle” a song by Rich Mullins
Raising the Emotions
Death: HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE FALLING ANGELS MEET RISING APES.
According to Barbara Fredrickson’s well-known broaden-and-build theory, positive emotions open up our awareness, allowing us to develop our cognitive processes. Abraham Maslow postulated that our positive emotions are also tied up in our peak experiences - a moment when we feel intense feelings of well-being and unity. While these models are useful for explaining behavior and cognition, the real trick is in intentionally producing positive emotions. Creating and observing rituals is an effective means of creating the feelings that support a happy life.
Jonathan Haidt discusses the role of positive emotions, such as joy, awe and elevation, in producing peak experiences. He explains that certain emotions are capable of overriding the parts of the brain that produce our sense of individuality and when intense enough, these feelings are characterized by a sense of unity with something outside of ourselves, be it God, humanity, or nature. Observation of moral or natural beauty and sacred truths are important sources of these emotions. George Vaillant echoes Haidt’s endorsement of peak experiences in “Spiritual Evolution.” He asserts that positive emotions not only broaden and build, but also produce feelings of spirituality and mystical illumination that unite us with both humanity and the universe. Vaillant, while comparing religion and spirituality, identifies ritual as a reliable source of positive emotion and community building.
Death: STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A BED IS A NORMAL THING.
Folk wisdom has long suggested that nature has a restorative effect on health. When research began to emerge supporting this idea, many ecologists and psychologists began to recommend that people and communities take the time to relax or explore in natural surroundings. Nature outings, or even simple visits to parks and gardens, can make for a health-promoting weekly or monthly ritual. This call for visiting, sustaining, and creating green environments in our technologically minded society has been taken up by the field of ecopsychology. This burgeoning branch of psychology takes seriously the biophilia hypothesis (humans are hardwired to connect with nature and other living systems) in researching the natural environments that promote well-being. Daniel Stokolz, a social ecologist, in a review of positive psychology, criticizes the lack of a framework for considering the contextual factors of well-being. Some people have suggested that positive psychologists and ecopsychologists would do well to learn from each other on a regular basis (see Iris Bloom’s article).
Richard Louv, a journalist, has popularized many of the ideas stemming from ecopsychology. In “The Nature Principle,” he bemoans the nature-deficit-disorder of our digitally obsessed society. He describes research into the power of nature to reduce stress, restore well-being, and build character, eventually concluding that a purposeful spiritual and physical connection to nature will ultimately lead to a more fulfilling life.
Reviving a Ritual
Death: IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT... A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THAT THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.
Jonathan Haidt suggests the value of recognizing and respecting the sacred within life. George Vaillant encourages exploration into spiritual and traditional practices. Richard Louv call for us to reconnect with nature. There are boundless possibilities for applying this advice to promote both positive emotions and peak experiences through ritual and nature. At the risk of being presumptuous, I would like to recommend one that has little empirical, though great historical, backing.
Celebrate the seasons. The solstices and equinoxes go by largely unnoticed in our society. However, these days provide an excellent opportunity to feel the rhythms of nature, to value the cycles of life, and to appreciate the natural phenomena that allow life to exist on this planet. Richard Heinberg wrote “Celebrate the Solstice” to offer a history of the seasonal festivals that occurred on these days and to encourage people to revive these rituals. He states, “The recovery of the ancient seasonal festivals is more than a symbolic gesture. It can be a meaningful way of reminding ourselves of the natural order of things... [These festivals] are times when we return to the simple truths at the heart of life.” I encourage you to infuse these days with meaning again by developing life-affirming seasonal rituals. I have a hunch that in so doing you will also develop a stronger connection with the madly spinning orbs that daily support your life.
Death: NO... THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN... A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
“Hogfather” a novel by Terry Pratchett