I was standing on a boat in water so calm it was almost flat. The boat’s engines were off, allowing the soft sounds of nature to be heard. We came to this spot with the hope of seeing orcas in their natural habitat.
We saw a fin rise above the surface, then another one. As we scanned the horizon, excited for more sightings, we realized we didn’t have to look very hard. We heard the telltale whoosh of their exhales. They were all around us… whoosh whoosh whoosh.
The sound was mesmerizing. I was overcome with wonder and awe at the sight and sound of these magnificent creatures. It was magical.
I’ve thought of that moment many times. What was it about that experience that made it so memorable?
I felt alive with the thrill of discovery.
All of my senses were focused on what was happening around me.
I felt connected to the natural world.
And I wasn’t thinking about a to-do list, unread emails, and responsibilities that I left behind.
It was powerful.
How often do we get to feel that awe-infused sense of aliveness? That connection to something greater than yourself?
If you’re anything like me, the answer is: not enough.
And that makes me feel sad – for myself and for anyone else who is awe-deprived.
Without awe and wonder, life starts to lose its sparkle. We fall into a tedious grind, with little cause for joy or discovery or serendipitous surprises. We miss the beauty around us. We end up slogging through our days wondering, is this it? Is this all there is?
That’s a sign we need more experiences like I had that day on the boat.
And the good news is: we’re meant to feel wonder and awe. We’re wired for it.
Recent research shows that feeling awe gives a boost to our body’s defense system against physical and mental illness. So, along with getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy food and exercising your body, we can add feeling awe to our wellness toolbox.
I say “hooray!” to that. The more tools we have to tend to our well-being, the better off we’ll be. Because even though we all know that good sleep, healthy food, and exercise are good for us, it’s not always easy to keep up. Life happens. By adding awe to our self-care routine, we have another option to draw upon when we need a boost.
A curious thing about awe is that it doesn’t seem like something we have control over. I used to assume that it was something that I would be lucky enough to find when I happened to be in the right place at the right time. That it was outside of ordinary day-to-day life.
And to be honest, it can be that way. After all, I live in a landlocked city – it’s not every day that I’m on a boat watching for whales.
But what those whales helped me understand was that not only can I seek out extraordinary experiences of awe and wonder, I can find ways to bring more awe and wonder into my daily life.
We can create the space and the opportunity for the experience of awe to happen.
It’s not hard to do, but it does require intention, awareness and openness to what’s around us.
With intention, we make a choice to prioritize experiencing the feelings of wonder and awe that we want in our lives.
With awareness, we recognize the circumstances for creating awe and wonder.
And with openness, we see beyond the routine of our daily lives and respond with curiosity and fascination to the beauty and inspiration that’s around us.
How do we utilize intention, awareness and openness to bring more awe and wonder into our lives?
Identify what inspires awe and wonder for you
This is an important first step because if we can’t name it, we can’t find it. What inspires awe for one person can be different for someone else, so there’s no one right answer.
Think about the last times you felt awe – where were you? What were you doing? Were you in nature? Looking at art? Listening to beautiful music? Something else?
Be specific. If nature is your thing, is it wildlife that most inspires you? Landscapes? Thunderstorms? A rainbow? If it’s art or music, which artist? Which composer or performer? The more we can narrow it down, the better we’ll be able to set ourselves up to experience more of it.
Consciously bring more of it into your life
This is the fun part. When we’ve identified what inspires awe and wonder for ourselves, we can take steps to bring more of it into our daily life.
Nature and wildlife are my biggest inspirations. I’ve created extraordinary experiences of awe and wonder, like when I traveled to see whales. But to infuse awe into my everyday life, I create more ordinary opportunities by, for example, planting flowers in my yard that attract butterflies, hanging up bird feeders outside my window, admiring trees in my neighborhood, and going for a walk around a local lake.
Put your phone down
I know this can be a tough one, but it’s critical for creating opportunities for awe to reach us. Look up and look around. If we’re always looking at our phones, we’ll miss the rainbow that’s emerging from the clouds, or the sunset that’s painting the sky with a dazzling display of color.
And when we do witness an awe-inspiring moment, resist the urge to immediately grab your phone and take pictures. As soon as we starting snapping photos, we stop being a participant in the experience and become an observer. We lose our connection to the beauty of the moment when we start thinking about landscape vs. portrait, what filter to use, what other people will think, or what hashtags to include.
Take time with the experience. Breathe it in. As we let ourselves be moved by it, we feel all the wonder, awe, aliveness and connection as it fills us with appreciation for the beauty and brilliance around us. As a bonus, we lock in the full sensory memory of the experience which we can bring up later and enjoy at any time.
I don’t have photos of the quiet time I spent with orcas as they swam around our boat. But I can relive the experience – and all the positive feelings I felt in the moment – whenever I want, anytime, anywhere. And I am filled again with joy and amazement for the wonders of our world.
(This post first appeared on Positively Positive.)