Do you have any recent experiences of awe?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
As my wife and I plan a long road trip after the Jewish 10 Days of Awe, I think I am on another spiritual journey with these columns, begun with Tuesday’s column. I am looking for awe, both in my life and that of others. If you would like to share any experiences of awe you have had with us, please do so and I will cover some of them in future columns.
Besides the mental and physical benefits of awe, what seemed to seal the series on the awe decision was receiving an email on Wednesday from a family member that was linked to Leonard Cohen’s famous song “Hallelujah,” but this time in a YouTube version sung by the angelic voice of cantor Avi Schwarz in Hebrew with the words of Psalm 150.
My wife and I heard Avi Schwartz as a guest on a program of Black social justice songs at Carnegie Hall some years back. Leonard Cohen was the favorite of my singer/songwriter best friend, and his original “Hallelujah” his favorite song. Psalm 150 is a passionate praise of God, included in the daily Jewish morning service, with the Hebrew word hallelu repeated 12 times in the 6 verses. Hearing this version gave me the chills, a sure sign of awe.
Before I retired from clinical work almost a dozen years ago, every morning for many years, when I got to the office, I recited “A Prayer for Psychiatrists” by the passionate psychiatrist and minister, E. Mansell Pattison.1 He offered it to begin the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1985. I got chills the first time I heard it.
Way before our current ecological crisis, he prayed for “ecological spirituality.” Way before our current political divisiveness, he prayed for “political spirituality.” Way before our physician burnout epidemic, he prayed for “professional spirituality,” along with “existential spirituality” and “clinical spirituality.” A mentor to me in social psychiatry, Mansell died in 1989, but he lives on in memory and this prayer.
Burnout reduces our passion, but awe can help rekindle it. Whether it be a Psalm, a prayer, a protest, or whatever, let’s look for more awe and turn it into awesome action. In the meanwhile, when we go on this road trip, we will look for awe and report when we find it.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Pattison EM. A prayer for psychiatrists. Pastoral Psychology. 1987;35:187-188.