(picture from a recent trip to Utah)
If you have ever experienced the summit of a mountain, the vastness of the ocean, or the wonder of the northern lights, you have experienced the incredible sensation of awe, of the sublime. These experiences are a powerful force to help us put our lives into perspective and recognize the immensity of the world within which we live. Feeling awe reminds us that we are just a small part of an immense, interconnected world. Our realization of our connection to that immensity is both empowering and humbling. When I stand amidst a landscape that inspires awe I feel a physical, emotional and spiritual sense that I am both incredibly powerful because of my inherent connection to this incredible universe, and extraordinarily small in the scheme of all that has happened, is happening and will happen in this world. This paradoxical experience includes a stirring of many sensations – thoughts, emotions, physically sensing the air, the heat, the smell and sound of a place. Awe is definitely not just intellectual – when we experience the sublime we involuntarily draw a deep breath (have you seen a truly “breath-taking” view?) The explanation I like to give for that natural deep breath is that our soul is instinctively trying to draw in the immensity of the universe – to take in the life-giving air and fill ourselves with the energy of the connection that is presenting itself. As we breathe and silently connect, our minds quiet, our nervous system settles and our bodies feel. Have you ever reached a beautiful location and spontaneously lifted your arms to the sky? Our bodies seem to know intuitively to celebrate and embrace the transcendence. Experiencing the sublime is surely one reason spending time in nature is so powerful and life giving. The good news is, we do not need to climb mountains to experience awe (although I highly recommend it!)
We can, if we choose to seek it, find awe in our everyday lives – even if we live in a city “far from nature.” The sublime exists not only in the grandiose and immense, it also exists in the tiniest detail, or the swiftest sensation, we simply must be present enough to notice. Where to begin your search? For me the easiest starting place is nature in whatever form you can find it. Can you watch the sunset from your building roof? Take a walk in the woods or in a park and pay attention to the smallest detail of how a flower blooms or the wind rustles the trees. Awe and wonder can also be found in letting go to beautiful music – many people feel transformed by music and can be swept into a sense of the sublime. Creating or experiencing art can also provide entre into a sense of the expanse of the human experience and the history of the world. Most simply, we can cultivate a sense of awe and wonder by being mindful, deeply mindful, of the experiences of each day. Imagine the human ingenuity and complex systems that brought about the hot shower you soak under. Feel the cold winter air whip against your skin and instead of cursing the cold, consider that the air has travelled the world from the arctic to your door step. Breathe it in. Look closely at the eyes of your pet or the leaves of your house plant – the creativity of colors and patterns and textures in such a “regular” thing. We live amidst the sublime in both the small and the immense.
When have you last experienced awe? Give yourself the gift of seeking the sublime – if that is a trip to an exotic land, a concert hall, or a walk in the park matters not. You will feel powerful and small and your body, heart and soul will be better for it.
Kristen Fragnoli March 2018