Editor’s Desk: Wonder and Awe

POSTED September 10, 2023 IN

In the past several years, a great deal of scientific and popular attention has been directed toward the experience of awe. For example, awe uniquely predicts indicators of the body’s inflammatory response, implicated in the onset and progression of various chronic diseases, cardiovascular disease, and depression; enhances critical thinking; and may reduce post-traumatic symptoms. Beyond the purely physical, awesome moments of wonder just plain feel good and add in positive ways to our overall well-being.

In a recent interview, Leigh Marz and Justin Zorn, co-authors of Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise, have said, “One mystical experience or moment of awe can…shift our perspective and set us on a new trajectory.”

As I write this, I’m preparing for a long-awaited interview with Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D. who describes in his book, Embodying the Mystery, “I believe that in a moment of awe a dimension of consciousness is present, one that opens us to a portal of consciousness that is a greater field of awareness that is constantly available to us. How we open to it is by surrendering to it. [T]his expanded state of awareness was not an anomaly but a fundamental ground of being out of which our basic confidence, compassion, and fearlessness arose.… The practice is to open to it in surrender to it so we can directly experience a reality free from the ongoing contractions in the body and the conditioned mutterings of the mind. In other words it’s a portal to seeing that an expanded state of consciousness is present in our everyday life and suggests that it doesn’t necessarily take a health crisis, psychotropic plants, or an extraordinary experience to lift the veils.

I would add to Richard’s description and say that it is tapping into a quantum field of reciprocal divine intelligence of co-creative energy in which we are embedded and which exists within everything, enlivens everything, and from which everything is made manifest.

Awe need not be a rare occurrence. Awe can be meaningfully experienced as a part of everyday life. There are easily applicable activities that can reliably elicit awe and cause significant positive effects in our life.

Here Are A Few Ideas and Suggestions to Help Bring this Field of Wonder and Awe into our Daily Lives

Create an “awe portfolio,” by writing accounts of previous experiences of awe… This can consist of photos and objects that personally represent the most powerful experiences of awe you have had in your lifetime.

  1. Remember a time when you had a powerful experience of awe. Relax and use all of your senses to recall in vivid detail where you were, what happened, and how you felt. Notice where in your body you are experiencing emotion and what that feels like now. Imagine these emotions expanding within you to flood your entire mind and body.
  2. Recall moments when you felt overwhelmed by greatness or by beauty on a grand scale.
  3. When have you been stopped in your tracks, transfixed by grandeur?
  4. When have you felt part of something much larger than yourself?
  5. Arrange an opportunity to exchange stories of awe in a group, perhaps as a part of a dinner party. Have each person share details of where they were, what happened, what they thought, how they felt, and the impact of the experience long-term. This is an activity that is suggested by a short poem by Mary Oliver: Pay attention, Be astonished, Tell about it.
  6. When family and friends return from travel to an awe-inspiring location, take the opportunity to ask them to elaborate on their experiences of awe. 

Here are some concrete suggestions to keep on hand when needed:

  1. Create an inspiring poetry folder.
  2. Create a playlist of YouTube video links or songs on your smart phone that evoke awe. The process of creating such a playlist may be more impactful than the finished product, so take your time to explore and experience what you come across. Add to this playlist when you find new media that stimulates feelings of amazement in you. (An example from my own collection of YouTube videos is the reunion of the two men with Christian the lion who they raised as a cub and then turned out to a wilderness sanctuary. I never tire of being inspired when I periodically tap into the unbridled joy of that reunion as documented on YouTube.)

The Importance Of Moments In Your Life To Intentionally Seek Awe

Recognize when you need a boost in a key area of life in which wonder and awe can be helpful and healing. Intentionally seek awe during these times.

For example:

  • Notice when you feel stressed or impatient. During these times, awe may help put you in you in touch with the greater field of an unbounded, luminous awareness.
  • When you are feeling isolated or self-absorbed, awe may aid you in feeling greater concern and connection with others.
  • Note when you feel unsatisfied with your life or generally when you feel less well-being. Tap into your playlist, poetry folder, and/or YouTube links to give you an emotional lift.
  • Observe when you feel spiritually empty or disengaged. Awe will help you to feel a connection with something greater or beyond yourself.

As philosopher Ken Wilber has written in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, “Simply let wonder fill your being until it takes you out of yourself and into the staggering mystery that is the existence of the world. A mystery that facts alone can never begin to fill. If spirit does exist, it will lay in that direction, the direction of wonder, a direction that intersects the very heart of science itself… In the search for an ultimate ground.”

Even more essentially, if you want to experience more awe in your everyday life, it is vital that you intentionally direct your attention to sources of awe in your everyday life – even those that are small, subtle, or quiet. As Henry Miller once stated, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

The good news is that awe need not be a rare occurrence. I personally feel that, in these most challenging times, a meaningful experience of wonder and awe must be part of everyday life.


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