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The Path to Awe

How would you define awe? When was the last time you felt awe?

In a recent podcast I listened to the research and social scientist Dacher Keltner explain the importance of awe. The sensation of awe is both physically and soulfully heathy. Creating a roadmap to awe is one way to help us become more familiar with this sensation.

What is awe?

Perhaps this question is answered a bit differently by every person. In Dacher Keltner's book: Awe, The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life, he asked people from over 30 different cultures to share an example of when they felt awe. If you were asked that question, what would you share?

One of the common themes among all the stories shared is the sensation of encountering the divine. As I have thought about that, I've reflected on how many different spaces I encounter the divine. Certainly in nature, If I'm present, I sense the divine design, and vastness of the world and cosmos. I encounter the divine when I feel the moral goodness of people. I encounter the divine within myself when I struggle with a challenge, and keep at it with compassion yet persistence. I feel the divine in the universe when I pray quietly and feel seen and known by God.

The Awe Mindset

In our western lifestyle we don't often pause to feel awe. When we want an answer to something, we ask Google and we are offered an answer immediately. We don't spend time wandering, wondering, or watching. Information and certainty are almost always at our fingertips.

So how do we cultivate awe? How do we develop a mindset that makes space for more uncertainty and wonder?

In Buddhism, we refer to this mind as the beginners mind. I've also heard of this as a growth mindset. Recall a small child, who discovers the magic of a colorful leave in autumn or the simplicity of throwing a rock into a lake and watching the ripples move wider and wider. This is a beginner mind. This is a mind that can find awe in the world and within people.

Practicing Awe

One way to practice a beginner mind is to consider something vast around you, something that you can not explain. Without wresting with understanding it fully, just allow your mind to sink into the unknown and mysterious part of it. Allow your mind to wonder without needing to solve, to question without needing to answer. This is not a frantic space, but usually a deep, quiet, reflective space.

This may be an uncomfortable space, as we are left with a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, that is growing. We can often handle ambiguity if it is funneling into a "known" or composting into a "truth", but ambiguity that seems to spiral into more uncertainty can cause a lot of anxiety within us. If this is the case for you, see if you can just breathe into that, and begin to see where there may be more wonder and vastness there than you originally thought.

The famous phrase "A paradox to manage, not a problem to solve", may offer some comfort here. You don't need to solve a problem here, just try and sit with the vastness of the feeling or experience.

The Pathway to Awe

We may notice certain pathways take us to the sensation of awe more reliably than others. I remember one weekend being so exhausted from hosting my sons wedding open house, but my daughter really wanted to go to the symphony. I went with her, thinking, I could at least sit still for 2 hours, maybe doze off.

Rachmaninov: Symphony No 2 in E minor, Op 27, Adagio. I was in pure rapture. Watching the musicians play and listening to the beautiful music. The music spoke to something deep and mysterious in me that has no verbal language or way to express itself. I felt awe and I left the performance more energized and grounded than when I came.

Whether it's music, nature, sports, art, dancing, find what speaks to those deeper parts of you, the parts that make you feel small and large all at the same time. Discovering and firmly establishing these pathways to awe is a beautiful way to practice mindfulness in our busy lives.

Blessings to you as you practice your own pathways to awe.

Juli Larsen

Certified Meditation Instructor


Want to hear Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Adagio? Get ready for Awe!


Don't forget to sign up for our CHAOS to CALM Women's retreat happening November 4th! Come find awe with a group of like minded women!

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