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A Taste of Awe

At times, merely reflecting that we are here, alive, together, on this planet can be awe inspiring.

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A dog looking up in awe and wonder

As I write, it’s less than a week before the 2020 US election, and there’s a lot to be upset, nervous, angry, and disenchanted about. It’s unknown if our democracy will hold. It’s unknown if we will continue to pretend that the pandemic, systemic racism, and climate change don’t exist or don’t matter, as though these can be ignored in service to “the economy” and to maintaining political power. It’s depressing and frightening.

Pandemic coupled with election stress is taking a significant toll on people in the US. As a means to make a difference and to cope, many people are taking affirmative action, such as volunteering, donating, writing letters, making calls, and educating themselves. But in the midst of all this, it’s equally important that we also take care of ourselves.

How?

Try channeling a sense of awe – a feeling of reverence, respect, wonder and amazement. A recent study – Awe Walks Boost Emotional Well Being – from UC San Francisco and The Global Brain Health Institute suggests that simply taking a 15-minute weekly “awe walk” where you focus on your surroundings instead of yourself can lead to greater well being.

I’ve experimented with awe walks for years.

Focusing on your surroundings is an excellent starting point, and exploring a very conscious and directed attitude of “beginner’s mind” can deepen the experience.

For example, explore seeing a tree as though you are seeing it for the first time – let yourself be curious and amazed (trees truly are amazing!). Look around at flowers, the sky, clouds, houses, mailboxes, cars with this same sense of curiosity and wonder. Notice what it feels like for your body to move – consider the anatomy of walking with one foot lifting off the ground, while moving your arms, hips, and shoulders in harmony.

After one of these walks, experiment with writing what you noticed and how you felt. You can do this in a journal or on your computer; writing can be a way of installing and supporting greater well being.

At times, merely reflecting that we are here, alive, together, on this planet can be awe inspiring.

To explore the topic of awe further, take a look at The Art of Creating Awe – a TED talk by Rob Legoto, creator of the movie effects for the film Apollo 13.

Awe is, of course, rather subjective. But here are some other performances, quotes, and poems that inspire awe for me:

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

What inspires awe for you right now?

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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