Let Yourself Be Awestruck!
The definition of the word “awe” is beautiful in itself: “an emotion that combines veneration and wonder inspired by the sacred or sublime.” Sometimes, when the world around me gets too stressful, it’s exactly what I seek out.
This past weekend, Rhoda and I drove 90 minutes to Estes Park, Colorado, on an awe-seeking mission. Our hope was to witness the pageantry of the magical elk rut in the Rockies. If you’ve never heard it, I can tell you myself: the “rutting call” or “bugling” of the elk during their mating ritual is beyond stunning. The elks’ vocal skills are amazing, covering three octaves. Starting with a high-pitched shrill and ending in low based grunting referred to as “bugling,” it’s unbelievable that this sound could come from such a huge, majestic animal.
But the sound isn’t the only awesome thing about the spectacle. The bulls, averaging 1,500 pounds each and carrying huge antler racks, move with amazing grace. And if you’re lucky enough to witness the stud of the herd fight off challengers to his “harem,” the drama is even more impressive. To keep his harem, each bull must ward off younger challengers for about six weeks, 24/7, from late August to mid October. Last weekend, Rhoda and I found ourselves standing less than 25 feet away from one of these incredible fights. I couldn’t even take pictures because my camera lens was too high powered. All we could do was stand and watch—and take cover behind a tree just in time to avoid being unintended bull challengers! The experience took me outside myself, and I came away changed.
I’m happy to say this wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself in such utter awe and experienced a similar shift in my core. I’ve witnessed a lion family with cubs frolic in Kenya, visited Colorado’s Maroon Bells at sunrise (the most photographed spot in the state), and listened to 80 people sing the Doxology in three-part harmony led by Dave Deutschendorf of the New Christie Minstrels at a recent family wedding. Each was a sacred and awe-filled moment in my life.
For me, awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something beyond human scale that transcends my current understanding of things. You may get it gazing at the Milky Way or hearing the national anthem sung by someone who can actually hit those high notes! Astronauts often report that they feel this in the extreme, experiencing a “far out” state of oneness with humanity when looking back at Earth. When I saw John Denver perform at Red Rocks amphitheatre years ago, he shouted out his awe in a moment when he could only articulate the feeling by repeating the words “far out” over and over again. John’s awe was contagious with his audience.
The current political situation has many of us stressed out. I’ve unfortunately witnessed the constant barrage of news coverage on television, radio, and social media until I had to just turn it all off. In this environment, I wonder if seeking a sense of awe might be just what the doctor ordered. If there was ever a time to focus on what really matters, this is it.
Rather than basking in the drama, and battling the pull of those around us who choose to focus on negativity, why not make a list—a high-level bucket list perhaps—of experiences that draw you out of yourself, expand your mind, and leave you awestruck? Here’s the thing: when we choose to experience awe, we enter a new dimension. The stresses of life are replaced with a deep gratitude (at least that’s how it feels to me). To be awed, you have to choose to move beyond yourself. Beyond your worries. And beyond your fears. It really is a natural “high.”
I suppose I’ve spent much of my life looking for these experiences—seeking them out and trying my best to recognize them when they happen. When they do, I give thanks, which brings even more beautiful, awe-inspiring events into my life. I believe that what matters most isn’t the latest headline, but rather how we live each moment. Appreciating our blessings and seeking out the magic and awe life has to offer can help us really focus on what matters most.