Saturday, May 9, 2020

Engaging Awe as a Transformational Process

by Jen Perry, MA, MSEd, LPC

I wrote this article in February 2020, weeks before COVID-19 would turn our worlds upside down. As I reread it now as it is about to be sent out I wonder what utility awe may have as a transformational practice during these unprecedented and scary times for so many of us. Awe and wonder are beautiful states of awareness that are born out of not-knowingness. I have found, over and over, that a willingness to let go of what we think we know and allow ourselves to not know is a tremendously healthy psychological stance towards life if we can make friends with fear and uncertainty. I invite you to consider the ways in which allowing a not-knowing with regard to these uncertain times can help steady us and allow us to be present, creative, and resilient.  

One example that comes to mind is the not knowing when things will open up again. I know that for me, surrendering to not knowing, surrendering to let’s-wait-and-see-how-this-goes has been much better for my overall well-being than expecting and hanging any certainty on any date such as April 12 and then having that date come and go. The date itself is meaningless devoid of the important factors that go into such a decision as when to reopen. I know that all of us at The Resiliency Center cannot wait to reopen our doors. We are also balancing that desire with safety. The truth is that no one knows and each day more information is revealed. As Rilke says, if we can just learn to love the questions we will live our way into the answers. 

When was the last time you felt awe? The exquisite rush of expansive delight or reverence tinged slightly with fear. Awe can be found in nature ~ witnessing a breathtaking vista, or a night sky full of stars, or encountering a wild animal. Awe can be human-made ~ seeing a famous painting or hearing live music. Awe can also be found in particular moments in life ~ holding a newborn baby, or meeting your hero. But what we could invoke awe more frequently and on purpose, is this even possible?

Awe signals us to stretch ourselves out in wonder. It beckons us to be curious. It brings us to the brink of our understanding and stands before us as an appeal to become intimate with mystery.  Awe is not only a thrilling experience in and of itself, but it also stays with us, transforms us, demands of us that we grow inside to accommodate a new perspective, and to find a home for more questions, deeper wonderings. In this way, engaging awe is as much a process as it is an event. As a process, it makes us aware of the boundaries of our hearts and minds. It asks us to be mindful that there is always MORE just outside of our awareness. It invites us to stay open to the possibilities of shifting our paradigms, opening deeper into our experiences, and understanding more. As a practice and process, awe goes beyond momentary feelings and experiences and can be transformational. If you want to experience strong growth in your life, it makes sense to learn to cultivate awe.

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