What is awe?
When I face the ocean, even on a day like this one when the ocean was calm, the waves whooshing against the sand more than they were crashing, I feel overcome by the enormity of it. But not because it makes me feel smaller.
When awe strikes, it is because we have become aware that we are part of the same world in which wonders exist. Whether it’s the world’s giants, like the ocean, or the redwoods, or the Grand Canyon, or the small things like a dandelion’s puff, a cloud tinged pink in the sunset, or a hint of rainbow in a lawn sprinkler’s spray, isn’t it amazing to think that we share the world with such magnificent things?
But we don’t just live in the same world with wonders, we are ourselves wondrous. I look at the ocean and marvel at the way the light dances on the sea foam, at how it embraces half the world, hiding timeless mysteries in its depths, and yet here it comes to dance at my toes. To the ocean, I am the marvel. We marvel at one another for our differences, and that is what makes us the same.
Awe makes us bigger, because it connects us at a profound level to our world, sharpens our awareness that the world is not just the place where we are, but the thing that we are. We are not just in the world, but of the world. We are the world, and awe comes when we remember that.
Awe keeps coming up in my browsing this week, the latest being this Instagram audio (featuring that wise sage Fred Rogers). The importance of feeling awe, and the role it plays in human experience, is only beginning to be understood. An article from The Marginalian was one of the pieces I saw[efn_notes]I can’t seem to find the other one, but I’ll come back and add it when I track it down.[/efn_note], focusing on how music is a sort of shortcut to the sense of awe. It also introduced a new book on the topic of Awe by Dacher Keltner, which I very quickly added to my to-be-read, since it seems to me that experiencing awe is very close to my own quest towards finding magic.
When is the last time you experience a feeling of awe in your own life? Did it transform your relationship with the world?