“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ― Albert Einstein
Webster’s Dictionary defines “awe” in this way.
: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime
//stood in awe of the king
//regard nature’s wonders with awe
And, if you’re like me and had to look up “to venerate”, it is defined as:
: to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference
It is the idea of awe that first led me to the connection between nature and transformative moments in our lives. I have noticed that awe is something I often experience in nature. And I began to wonder about the link between that emotion and the empowerment, creativity, and courage that I so often gain after being in the company of Mother Nature.
As it turns out, that connection is pretty much universal. When humans are faced with something so large we can’t easily categorize, make sense of or explain, we are likely to experience a wondrously intoxicating mix of fear, curiosity and deep gratitude or appreciation. And, that heady concoction can and often does lead to transformation. But, like so many things these days, we may not be in a position to easily experience nature on the grand scale that is typically a part of experiencing awe.
In a recent conversation Chris Lawer, CEO / Founder of Umio – Health Ecosystem Value Design® described it like this. “For many of us, prior to Covid-19, our experience of time was one of near-constant forward acceleration. Our perception of the present was diminished by a sense of needing to keep up, to stay connected and to get ahead. Whilst this crisis of the “absent present” has been temporarily broken by the pandemic, our potential to enjoy a more expansive sense of time in the now has been diminished by limitations on the space in which we can move and the places that we can visit.”
Perhaps as a way to meet the need that Chris references, I have noticed during quarantining that Tricia and I are slowing down and putting just a bit more energy and mindfulness into the small things. And what I have come to realize is that there are moments, often just the tiniest parts of a day, ripe with the transcendent.
Margaret Moore, Founder and CEO of Wellcoaches Corporation recently drew my attention to this possibility. According to Margaret, “The experience of awe is inspiring – for a few moments we lift off the ground and touch the grandeur of the universe. In pandemic time, when we can’t travel to see the grandest of nature, for ‘Big A’ Awe, we can shift our intuition to experience nature all around us, or ‘small a’ awe.
What does it take to see these awe-inspiring things? Intention, focus, awareness, perspective, empathy…all these immediately come to mind. A definition of mindfulness that has surfaced again and again in my life recently is that it is intentionally paying attention to something or someone in a non-judgmental, kind, curious, compassionate way.
The trick is in the noticing.
Noticing can happen because something is immense, sparkling, loud, or tumultuous. Hike to the bottom of Yosemite Falls and it’s hard not to notice the grandeur. But, noticing can also be the result of a desire to notice. If you seek it out, it comes. Slow down, allow the space and time to see what you can see, and there it is. Chris refers to it as “being more present in our perception of the ‘real’ around us in nature”.
Intention is how we describe what comes next. Once the stimulus has drawn us in, we have the opportunity to choose to focus on it. In other words, we make the conscious decision to direct our energy and attention in that direction.
And, empathy and curiosity are what can make the moment really count. Empathy and curiosity draw us in and lead us to seek connection and understanding of another living thing. By paying attention in this very particular and powerful way, we might receive the gift of awe.
We appreciate a Swift in impossibly agile flight, marvel at a spider building a web across a vastness many times its own size, feel compassion for a mother bird feeding it’s young or share the excitement of a new puppy finding his running legs through grass taller than he is. We smell a thunderstorm approaching, the first mountain laurel blooms of the season or the muskiness of the mud on the riverbank. We don’t just look at a river, we hear that it babbles to us, notice that the color of the sky changes its mood and understand that it nurtures other life. And Chris reminded me that awe can be found in feeling subtle transitions, “We can nourish a sense of awe in the subtle shift of one season to the next, of the play and spread of light at dawn and dusk or in the rising and falling volume of daily birdsong.” Ahhh, there it is! It’s the same awe that the vastness and magnitude of the larger natural world offers us. By truly noticing what is right in front us we can find a portal to feelings of calm, inspiration, creativity, and resilience.
And, the ability to use that gateway once things speed up again is a skill important for all of us. When that time comes, lean into your ability to be intentional. Choose slowing down and noticing and you will find calm and healing power right in front of you.
“When we return to our accelerated lives in which time is once more speeded up and our present condensed, we must remember that those small moments of awe never go away; they are always there. And so we must learn to keep noticing them.” – Chris Lawer
Photo credit: tmanskephoto.com