The Importance of Seeking Awe

Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

White Noise.

I frequently feel like I am wading through white noise, so many distractions and somewhat meaningless words continually swirling around me and all the people in my life. While I am driven and passionate at times, sometimes I know I am putting things on autopilot, and that is the first step to mindlessness, and mindlessness, for me, feels like one step closer to apathy.

Even my mindfulness practice and exercise can sometimes start to feel like a series of motions, and I find that the more often I push through those motions without making sure I’m fully engaged, the less they open me up and give me the mindful attention span I want to have throughout my day.

This is normal. We all have routines, conversations, checklists of things we do every day, and it’s so easy to fall into that routine (or out of it), and maybe there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I want to do better.

This is where something I call “seeking awe” comes in. Seeking awe means going out of your way to have experiences and awareness that intentionally either reveal the beauty and terror of the Earth around you, or generally make you uncomfortable and therefore think (read: pay attention to your life) in new and different ways. This is also something that routinely brings back to me the feeling of being meaningfully humble, and grateful for myself in the context of the environment and people I get to live and work with.

Five Examples of Awe-Seeking

  1. Travel

    Travel doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Travel can mean checking out your local state park or green spaces. It can mean walking through the oldest part of your city and really looking at the buildings, the streets, the landscaping, the restaurants. Or it can mean saving up and flying half way around the world to experience a culture or landscape you’ve only imagined. Filling your mind up with the beauty of nature and people and food and both abundance of community in those places or lack of it, is eye-opening and sometimes jarring. It is best when it is jarring. Fill your eyes with beautiful things, and let it charge you up.

  2. Reconnect with your body

    That does not mean you need to run a marathon or something crazy like that. What it does mean is taking some time to really connect with your body in a way that pushes it around physically in a positive, awareness-driving way. I highly recommend an extended hike, hot yoga or a level of cardio that gets your heart-rate up and your mind into a different space. (PS, if you have any concerns about your health or exercise-related issues, consult a doctor before doing anything rash). It can be as gentle as walking briskly or stretching easily. Anything that works your body in a different way than usual, and allows you to focus your mind on movement and breath in a way that extends or breaks you out of your normal practice or routine. Generate a little awe for the body you have and all it can do.

  3. Eat something really good  and really pay attention to the process.

    This technique works best for me when it’s not only a food or recipe that I know will taste phenomenal, but that I prepare and cook myself. Pay attention to the repetitive motions of chopping or mixing ingredients, and let your attention linger on the smells and feeling of the tools you use for preparation. Once things have come together, dwell on and be thankful for the food itself, and then bring awareness to the sensation of eating.

  4. In all of these endeavors, let uncomfortable experiences be what they are.

    You may notice, in all of those experiences, there is a high chance of encountering some feelings that are not necessarily good. Let those be. When you’re finally on the trip you’ve planned for so long, and your flight gets delayed, lean into that uncomfortable feeling and exist with it. When you get bored with chopping the eight vegetables needed for the stir fry you chose to cook, allow yourself to be bored and focus on the actions and sensations in the moment. When you’re attempting more cardio than you’ve done for a while and you start to get tired, slow down a bit and focus on what you can do and what you can do to press on.

These three things help me get out of ruts and refocus on what matters to me – clarity, focus and gratitude. What do you do when your routines start to feel like only a grind? Let me know in the comments!

Change is not magic.

There is no magic number of times that you have to do something to make that new habit stick. 21 days, 90 days, all of these little maxims are misleading and honestly almost seem like some kind of scheme.

The truth is, every day you have a choice. A choice to do what you know makes you feel clean, healthy, satisfied, and supported. Or to not do that. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but don’t find solace in some arbitrary number of times you have to do something before you have to stop trying. That’s just not how it works.

How to make your habits about making intentional change in the present.

  1. Don’t establish an end date for your goals

    This is I think the most dangerous piece of the philosophy that there is a magic number of days you need to repeat some habit to make it last. It implies that there is a date when this habit will stop being a priority. If this habit is only worth 21 days of effort on your part, then it may not be something you truly want to be a part of your life in the long-term.

  2. Avoid the opportunity for failure.

    If your habit is that you want to stop eating ice cream at home, don’t buy ice cream! Don’t even walk down the freezer aisle at the store. Willpower is a fickle friend, and why create the need to use it?

  3. Don’t worry about doing everything, do what you can and be generous with yourself when things don’t happen in order.

    If your routine you’re wanting to implement feels like a checklist that you have to do in order at a specific time of day, you’re setting up little limiting factors to you day. Your routines are not an in order process, they’re a list of ways you can be better, at this moment. Do what you can in the moment and focus on the action and not the perfect process you may have laid out originally.
  4. Make your routines granular and approachable.

    In that same vein, don’t set yourself up for an overwhelming experience of your goals. Look carefully at the habits you want to form and make sure there are small pieces (actions you can take in 5 minutes or less) so you have specific actions you can take without it meaning a 3 hour diversion from you day. Small, quick wins will keep you on track.

  5. Identify mental loops that help you avoid the work

    I don’t know about you, but my brain has a specific language it starts to use that alerts me that I’m on a path towards procrastination and avoidance. Be aware of your thoughts around the work that needs to be done, and when you start to feel an internal dialogue that is helping avoid your healthy habits, literally stop yourself and identify what is making you feel that way, and take some small action to stop the loop.

These are steps I take every day to lead me incrementally towards my goals. How do you find ways to keep your goals and routines top of mind an manageable?