We can find awe in many places, in listening to music, thinking about inspiring people, in contemplation and mindfulness. My favorite approach to cultivating awe is the awe walk—a walk within a place of meaning and beauty, where your sole task is to encounter something that amazes and transcends, be it big or small.
I take two kinds of awe walks. The first is to seek out the new, for there one is likely to find awe. And the second is to return to a familiar place, where the past is linked to the present, yet another kind of vastness—how brief experiences are tied together in the sweep of time.
The striking thing, once you start to think about awe and try to practice it in your life, is how omnipresent it is. As you move through your day, take note of the moments that bring you wonder, that give you goosebumps: These are your opportunities for awe.
A Guided Awe Walk Mindfulness Practice
This practice can be experienced indoors, but is meant to be brought outside, to a space that either feels new and inspiring or to a familiar place brings peace and presence.
- We begin an awe walk as we do all contemplative exercises, with the breath.
- Take a deep breath in. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Feel the air move through your nasal passage and notice the sound of your breath.
- Feel your feet on the ground and listen to the sounds around you. Return to your breath. Count to six while you inhale and six as you exhale.
- Shift your awareness now so that you are open to what is around you, to things that are vast, unexpected, things that surprise and delight. Take a deep breath in. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale.
- Let your attention be open in exploration for what inspires awe. Your attention might appreciate vast spaces, and the sounds and sights within them. You might shift to small patterns, for example of the sorrel on the ground, or the cracks in pavement, or the veins on leaves, or a cluster of tiny mushrooms.
- Bring your attention back to the breath. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Coming out of these experiences of awe, we often feel a sense of wonder. Wonder happens when we are delighted by that which surprises us, and we are moved to find explanations and deep meaning.