If I were to ask anyone who speaks English what the word “awful” means, they would have no problem telling me. Everybody knows something awful when they see it, hear it or otherwise experience it. Something awful is that which is extremely bad, very unpleasant or even terrible.
Awe, on the other hand, is typically an emotion which surpasses the best of feelings. It can be a feeling of reverence, absolute and utter respect, or an overwhelming appreciation of something beautiful.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that most of us prefer feeling awe full rather than awful. The ancient sage Heraclitus once said, “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” That magical child part of us knows how to get the most joy, delight and awe out of any positive experience.
Leonardo DaVinci said: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because the work appears smaller, more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.”
Going a distance away, beyond our daily routine and looking back at it, certainly makes anything awful appear smaller. From a mental and emotional distance, we can see things with a fresh eye and spot the flaws and distortions more easily. In order to avoid being consumed by something, the work or job that we do for instance, we must walk away from it from time to time so that we can become a wise observer. This creates balance. It relieves stress and pressure and invites a newness and freshness into our feeling nature, which then breathes life back into our magical child. Such is the value of taking vacations, a time out, or perhaps a barefoot walk in the grass.
Where do we go and what do we do when we distance ourselves? When we decide to put some space between ourselves and our everyday world? If you’re like me, it usually involves getting in touch with Nature. Look back and see how many of your pleasant memories involve connecting with Nature. Most of my favorite and most awe full memories include the sound of surf crashing against the rocks or washing ashore, the sound of seagulls, a breeze ruffling my hair, grass under my feet or sand between my toes, the colors of a sunset, the thrill at seeing a rainbow, leaning against an old wise tree, the sound of sails as they fill with the wind and the bow of a boat as she slices through the water, or the majesty of the red rocks of Sedona. There is nothing that can sooth the soul and arouse the magical child more than the sights and sounds of nature.
I guess the bottom line here is that awakening the magical child within, distancing ourselves from our everyday routine and connecting with nature, is really about nurturing our soul. When we nurture our souls we open our hearts to the subtle whisper of the deepest possible joy. Such joy can explode into goosebumps on our bodies, a feeling of awe beyond belief, and a renewal of body, mind and spirit, which may be just what the doctor ordered.
The responsibilities of everyday life, whether it be paying the bills, taking the kids to school, closing the deal, shopping for groceries or getting the car washed seems to take priority over the needs of our soul, and before we know it we feel awful instead of awe full. Losing contact with our soul causes a void to manifest within us. It’s an emptiness that many people fill with addictive patterns. It becomes easy to follow the path of least resistance and work a couple of extra hours or stare zombie-like at the television or fall into patterns of grumpiness and grumbling because we never have time for ourselves.
None of this is to say that everything in life can be hunky-dory all the time. Life is filled with challenges. But an awe full life is about meeting the challenge of handling pain without amplifying it into suffering, and savoring pleasure without becoming a slave to pursuing more and more of it. Let your gratitude, your perceptions, and your imagination open your mind to all that is available in the present moment whether it’s good or not so good; to that which offers you creative ways to meet each challenge. Let the intensity of awe help reduce anxiety or pain and free you from the relentless search for happiness. Engage with life so that you may enjoy every awe filled moment. Let your life be awe full, not awful.