There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

Welcome to Day One of Awaken to Awe

Most of us carry treasured experiences of awe — moments of amazement, even transcendence, that have enlarged our existence and allowed us to feel in touch with the very essence of life. Perhaps yours include watching the sunrise at the ocean’s edge, finding yourself in tears at a concert’s closing notes, or even something that is a daily experience for the fortunate around the globe: turning a faucet on and drinking clean, safe water. 

Awe can result from a wide range of experiences but remains somewhat difficult to put into words. Our founder Br. David Steindl-Rast writes that “any encounter with mystery,” whether on a grand or daily scale, “spontaneously triggers awe.” Awe, then, has something to do with coming face to face with what is not fully comprehensible to us. It can arrive unexpectedly, leaving us swept off our feet or “grabbed by life,” but it can also be sought and cultivated by living gratefully. Our mere existence is deserving of constant awe…but we forget. This week’s series offers a collection of practices, reflections, and resources that will help you cultivate more awe in your life, which — it turns out — is a great benefit to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Awe

By James Crews

It’s a shiver that climbs the trellis
of the spine, each tingle a bright white
morning glory breaking into blossom
beneath the skin. It can happen anywhere,
anytime, even finding this sleeve of ice
worn by a branch all morning, now fallen
on a bed of snow. You can choose to pause,
pick it up, hold the cold thing in your hand
or not. Few tell us that wonder and awe
are decisions we make daily, hourly,
minute by minute in the tiny offices
of the heart—tilting the head to look up
at every tree turned into a chandelier
by light striking ice in just the right way.

In his poem Awe, James Crews reminds us that awe is a choice, a decision “we make daily, hourly, / minute by minute in the tiny offices / of the heart.”

To set the stage for the week ahead, take a few moments to read the poem then reflect on the following questions, whether in writing or silent contemplation. 

  • What possibilities open up when I think of awe as an experience I can choose daily, even hourly?
  • How might opening to awe in this intentional way not only yield joy but also support me in whatever challenges or heartaches I may be experiencing?

Today’s Practice

Because nature is so often the impetus for awe, we’ll begin with the gratefulness practice of noticing, savoring, and appreciating the wonders of the natural world. 

Take a few minutes to watch Fascinated by Nature, a 3-minute film by Green Renaissance in which artist Vicki Thomas invites us to look closely at the complexity and wonder of the natural world — at its beauty, its details, its mathematical order. She says, “The world that I dream of is the one that we’ve got because I think it’s absolutely incredible!,” modeling what it’s like to be fully open to and moved by the awe of the natural world — not just the grand vistas but the everyday garden, not just nature’s beauty but its complexity too.

After watching the video, here is your practice for the day:

  • Set Your Intention. Set an intention to allow yourself to notice and appreciate the natural world as you make your way through the day. Whether you’re able to get outside, look through a window, or even close your eyes and envision your favorite place in nature, borrow Vicki’s phrase, “Oh, look!,” and notice anew — not only with sight but with touch, smell, or sound, whatever senses are available to you — the reflection of sunlight on water, the scent of a flower, the song of the leaves in the wind.
  • Track. Document five things you notice — gifts of the natural world that move you in some way, that inspire awe. You can do this by making a simple list, taking pictures, recording sounds, or sketching — whatever works for you.
  • Review and Reflect. At the end of the day, review your collection and reflect on the following: Was my day different because I was paying attention to the wonders of the natural world?  In what ways did this savoring open the door to awe? How did increasing moments of awe shape the tenor and feel of my day?

Share Your Reflection: We invite you to share your reflection in the Community Conversation area below. Please note that you’re welcome to post a response to each day’s prompt at any point during the practice.

Deepening Resource

Springtime by Pavithra K. Mehta

This lush, evocative essay is a poetic reminder to slow down enough to notice, to remember, to be in awe of the natural world. It also compels us to let go and to allow the wonders of the natural world to live through us.

The essay concludes with these beautiful lines: “Step into the river, lean into the wind, let the strength of the earth rise through you. Watch your fingertips burst into bloom.”

Research Highlight

Based on his research on the benefits of awe across cultures and age groups, Dacher Keltner reports: “It is hard to imagine a single thing you can do that is better for your body and mind than finding awe outdoors. Doing so leads to the reduced likelihood of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and cancer. It reduces asthma in children. It leads to reductions in everyday aches and pains, allergies, vertigo, and eczema.” (Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life)


Awe by James Crews (The Wonder of Small Things: Poems of Peace & Renewal, Storey Publishing, 2023) has been reprinted with kind permission of the author.

Photo by Leo Moko


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