The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger,who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. ~Albert Einstein
Practice Being in Awe:
Life and living is full of surprises. There is a great deal of folk wisdom about this: “Expect the unexpected,” “Life is what happens while you are making other plans,” “Different strokes for different folks,” are just a few that come to mind.
And still we plan. And have expectations — of ourselves, of others.
The unexpected comes in different flavors: the generic “surprise,” “amazement” is laced with a bit of disbelief and may herald the new. “Wonder” is fraught with mystery and is a term often found in religious hymns and texts. We do not seem to expect wonder to become known, yet it often has a positive vibe. Is it an enduring state?
Then “awe.” Awe, like wonder, is a more sustainable and positive state, not just a mere response to the unexpected. Awe connotates a respect and reverence for its object or being. Delight and fear both may accompany awe in a strange yet desired concoction, but I feel awe is mostly delight and respect; like the feeling one might have if playing with a goddess — a sacred playmate.
To be at some point on this spectrum of Wonder – Awe is to be like a child again, and that can be a good and truly beautiful thing.
Years ago, Dr. David Simon, author and co-founder of the Chopra Center for Well-Being said something to me that stuck and has served in many situations. It was a conversation in which the difficulties and nasty stuff of living was being discussed in the context of trying to maintain one’s spiritual path. He said: “Look, disagreeable stuff happens; it always does. Right? And when it does, you can choose to be offended by it, or you can choose to be amazed about it.” I thought about that for awhile. I realized that when something occurred that I didn’t want or expect (“disagreeable stuff”) — something that surprised me on some level — it was easy to automatically respond with feeling offended. I jumped to negative judgment! Here was the alternative to stay in neutral surprise. To cultivate my child-like wonder rather than my gotta-be-right critic.
Anyway, this is a sharply edited version of why/how the cultivation of AWE is a powerful Beauty Practice. Suffice to say, wonder and awe facilitate the recognition of the True Beauty in a thing or situation. Being offended or repulsed does not. So if this synopsis is resonating with you, you might start cultivating being “awe-ful” by:
1) Identify some small thing that habitually “puts you off.” Approach this thing and try seeing/sensing it anew, as if for the first time. Can you move back to being amazed by it? (Think snake, bad driver, or licorice) How long can you stay there?
This practice is not about coming to like snakes or licorice, but merely changing your response to them. Rather than “ick!” and a possible rise in blood pressure, one may experience wonder and perhaps some mild curiosity. (“Does licorice come from a plant?”)
2) Where is the wonder in your life? Spend some time with and in wonder. For me this might be time watching the ocean or the sky. Or both!
3) Find an old tree. Really perceive it. Think of all the years it has been rooted in that spot. Can you feel awe?
4) Watch, or help, a child doing his/her homework. Remember that wonder of learning?
An enchanted life has many moments when the heart is overwhelmed by beauty and the imagination is electrified… ~Thomas Moore, “The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life“