New Travel Log: Please Astonish Us


What astonishes you?




My wife and I are very much looking forward to a 5-day seminar next week in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. The course is one of the annual summer ones put on by Lawrence University, and is titled “Astonish Us in the Morning: Artistic Collaborations in the 21st Century.” Given the intriguing and promising wording of the title, I will do a couple of preview articles, one on the word “astonish” and the other on “artistic collaborations,” and relate both to psychiatry.

I have not heard the term astonish used much, if at all, in psychiatry. Its definition generally has to do with greatly surprised or impressed. To me, there seems to be a connection to awe, a positive psychiatry reaction that I previously covered in the December 19, 2022, column “The Psychiatric Best Of: In Awe of Awe,” in the sense of providing freshness, wonder, and gratitude instead of taking things for granted or being numb from too much pressure. Astonishment is most commonly seen in children.

For the seminar, the initial information suggests the goal of becoming astonished by the connecting Kinetic Arts Festival, where artists of various endeavors perform, collaborate, and provide workshops under the leadership of Ron Simonson of noted multi-artistic renown.

We all have the potential to bring surprises and the ensuing dopamine release pleasure into our lives and the lives of others, including small and more regular surprises. Surprise proposals, presents, trips, events, emails, texts, the right spoken words, and the like, all at the right time and place, can astonish those we engage. By now, after 55 years of marriage, my wife trusts my surprises will generally be welcome ones. I must count on love, empathy, and knowing what she likes to be able to astonish her. One can be negatively astonished, too.

For your own astonishment, try new things at work and home. As the saying goes, “think outside the box.” The research on the subject, though limited, suggests the memory benefits of being surprised in a positive way. Perhaps this is why I love April Fool’s Day and Halloween. Traveling to new places can commonly astonish, too.

In psychiatry, I have been astonished at times. That goes back to being a student and being astonished by some of the insights of my faculty supervisors, especially about the counterintuitive aspects of psychiatry. Sometimes that has come from my own students who make astonishing progress in learning psychiatry. I have seen it clinically in a medical student with a dissociative identity disorder, who was able to integrate her several identities and finish medical school successfully. I have been astonished by the second coming of psychedelics, substances that themselves can also produce astonishing results. I have seen it in colleagues who somehow thought my work was good enough to justify an award. I am astonished to still be doing this weekday column after 2 years.

When have you been astonished?

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.

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