It is a little unorthodox to be writing a book recommendation about 2 books at the same time, but I have recently read them both and the impact that they have had on me would not have been the same had one not been accompanied by the other.
The first book is called IntraConnected - Mwe (Me + We) As the Integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging by Daniel J. Siegel, MD. This book makes a compelling argument for the fact that our sense of self is a more fluid and externally influenced thing than we typically assume. He also posits that it is only relatively recently that we have come to have such an individualistic understanding of ourselves. This now common understanding of our identity as not extending beyond our physical bodies to include our family, community, and the natural world that sustains us, is the cause of the sense of disconnection, disillusionment, and despair experienced by so many.
This reductionist and limiting understanding of ourselves as entirely separate beings does not allow for a fully integrated, intraconnected sense of who we are and is, therefore, the source of so many of the contemporary crises we are facing. These include the increasing loneliness and despair felt by so many, the increasing nationalism we are witnessing globally, and even the climate crisis.
He weaves together strong evidence from neuroscience, and systems thinking, supported by the wisdom from various indigenous cultures and of contemplative practices, for how commonly people have held an integrated understanding of who we are and how each of us can move from a “solo-self” understanding to a more intraconnected “collectivistic” one. And in doing so, he argues, we get at the root cause for all of these complex and seemingly insurmountable issues.
This idea really excited me and so it was with great delight that I proceeded to read the next book called Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life by Dacher Keltner. This is a treatise on the importance of creating opportunities to experience awe more regularly. Keltner argues that we are far too consumed with our own small selves. Transcending this focus to experience a sense of wonder at the mystery and greatness of the world and our ability to participate in it is paramount to a fulfilled existence and would make the world a better place for all of us.
By intentionally making space to experience ourselves as a small part of this magnificence we can support the feeling of intraconnectdness that Siegel was pointing at – we quite literally transcend our solo-self and feel a part of the larger whole that comprises this magnificent existence.
He outlines myriad ways to incorporate opportunities for awe in to our everyday, some of which I will itemize below.
Marvelling at the achievement of someone else. This could be anything from witnessing a small child learning to walk to a composer creating a magnus opus.
Fully appreciating the magnificence of the natural world. This could be the enormity of the night sky, the beauty of the forest or the power of the sea, amongst many other things found in nature that stir an awe reaction.
Art of any kind
Acts of compassion, generosity, or kindness
I am left feeling hopeful that simply by refocusing our lens to allow for us to create a more expansive and integrated understanding of ourselves we can genuinely take meaningful steps in co-creating the post-carbon caring society we so desperately need.
I invite you all to look for ways to incorporate awe into your lives more regularly and see if you don’t experience the wonder of feeling connected - a feeling that will take your breath away and leave you more grateful and hopeful for the state of the planet and each part of this complex and magical system.