In many cases, an image of nature will be the first thing our minds will conjure when told to reminisce on a moment when we found ourselves to be in a state of awe. When thinking of a time you may have felt small in comparison to something incredible, who wouldn’t remember their first time looking out at the ocean or up at a redwood or across a mountain valley? With the ease of access to nature documentaries like Planet Earth, Instagram accounts dedicated to international travel, new photos from space, and articles dedicated to “bucket list” destinations, we are closer than ever to the potential to be awed by nature…even if, ironically, it happens through a computer screen.
Awe in nature does not always have to stem from something as large scale as watching a volcano explode. Everyday, we have the opportunity to notice the awesome world around us. Imagine how easily we can go through the morning routine in autopilot; to make a cup of coffee, get in the car, and arrive at a destination. Seeing ordinary things with new eyes is easily offered as a more accessible gateway to awe. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” When making the decision to be mindful of the awe-inspiring things that surround you, you transform the morning routine from a monotonous or repetitive thing that happens every day into an opportunity for discovery and joy. While brewing your coffee, close your eyes and think about the plant those beans came from. Breathe it in and realize that somewhere in the world, a seed was planted and after a number of years, its berries were harvested, processed, dried, milled, roasted, ground, brewed…and is now energizing your body! Those beans are awesome! This noticing of the world around you, this slow and intentional seeking of awe is an incredible gift you can give yourself. So, when an exploding volcano is not on your route to work (yay?), maybe instead you can choose to look closely at the inside of a flower, watch a treetop swaying back and forth, or notice the falling leaves. For those of us working in an office setting, having a plant (or shrimp ecosphere!) at your desk, an inspirational calendar on your wall, or having your computer screen set to a scene of natural splendor can all be steps you take to add some awe into your life.
In 1982, Japan introduced “shirin-yoku” (forest bathing) as a part of its national health program. Forest bathing is based on the idea that simply being in the atmosphere of a forest is a form of preventative medicine. Forest bathing is gaining traction in the US as well, and focuses on a slow and mindful experience. Walking into the forest with the thought, “using all my senses, I will imagine I’m seeing the world for the first time” is one way to connect with a feeling of awe. You may suddenly notice the smell of leaves, the sway of the trees, an iridescent beetle underfoot. These things were always there, but suddenly you find yourself aware of them. Suddenly the familiar world around you becomes awesome.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
- If the moon was 1 pixel – a tediously accurate scale model of the solar system. Scroll through this site to gain some perspective on the vastness of the space around us.
- TEDEd: Awesome Nature – Lessons Worth Sharing: Awesome Nature. This link will lead to a series of videos which highlights a vast array of nature-based lessons.
- Outside Magazine – Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning. An article about one journalist’s experience traveling to Japan to participate in forest bathing. Jam-packed with information!
- The Atlantic: Forest Bathing – Forest Bathing: How Microdosing on Nature can Help with Stress. This article follows an experience forest bathing in Oakland, and talks about the ways people from any climate can benefit from nature.
- Shinrin-yoku: A general website about forest bathing, and how to find walks in your area, become a guide, or request a starter kit.
- Psychology Today – The Power of Awe: A Sense of Wonder Promotes Loving-Kindness
- Psychology Today: Wow! The Life-Changing Power of Experiencing Profound Awe
- Psychology Today: The Power of Awe: “A Star is Born” Images and the Small Self.
Tools, Action, Practice
Exercise for you to try:
Look at pictures from an old trip.
Have you ever visited somewhere that you felt was awe-inspiring? Do you have a photo album (digital or physical) that you can look through? If you choose to take the time to look through those old photos, you can reignite that feeling of awe. This exercise can also inspire happiness, pride, gratitude, nostalgia.
“It can be difficult to feel a lot of awe towards the same old sights you see everyday, even if they are beautiful. But you don’t have to go far to find something new. Try taking a hike on a trail you’ve never been to, go for a walk in a different neighborhood in your city, or visit a museum haven’t visited before. After living in the same city for years, I started running and discovered a creek with a running trail not far from my house that inspired a bit of awe each time I ran down it. Now that it is Fall, I am looking forward to taking in the awe-inspiring reds and oranges as the trees change colors on my walk to work. Being a tourist in your own city can open up your eyes to wondrous new experiences. And you might feel a second helping of amazement when you realize that something awesome was just down the street and you had no idea.”
A video game designed with the purpose of simplicity. Listen to the sounds of nature as you seek inspiration in the woods and attempt to achieve a work-life balance. “Should you not leave sufficient time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: “Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.”
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