The Power of Awe to Restore the Soul

The Power of Awe to Restore the Soul

As you read this, I will be heading to Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA to teach a weekend workshop on the Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Disaster: The Resilience Mindset. Kripalu is one of the largest and oldest residential retreat and yoga training centers in the country, located in one of the most beautiful settings in the world: nestled in the Berkshires, surrounded by forests and undeveloped open space, overlooking Lake Mahkeenac. An awe-some setting to recover a sense of ease and peace of mind that can hold all of the troubles and difficulties of our times. 

Experiencing moments of awe and deep peace in nature is one of the practices I will be teaching this weekend at Kripalu. Recommending that participants do a Sense and Savor Walk that is a simple version of the forest bathing done for several hours in a protected forested space, to return the nervous system to its natural baseline physiological equilibrium, no matter what stressors or catastrophes we are facing in our larger life.

Sense and Savor Walk is a kind of walking meditation that uses all of our senses to notice  and find delight in our experience.  Please find even two minutes sometime during the day to try this sense and savor walk.

1.  Find a place or path you can walk on; it could be an outdoor patio, on a trail, through a park or meadow. You can walk by yourself; you can walk with a friend or with a group of people.  But silence is also helpful to the brain recovering its baseline equilibrium; less stimulation to process, more restfulness and restoration in the process.

2.  Begin to walk slowly, savoring the input from all five senses:

* walking through a park or on a trail, noticing the shape of a leaf, the texture of the bark on a tree, notice the variety of tree shapes; walking on an outdoor patio, noticing the colors and textures of the stones; seeing the riot of color in nearby flowers.

* smelling the fresh air, or the earth, or smelling a cup of tea.

* hearing bird song, the rustle of the wind, the sound of people walking by; hearing the silence;

* touching a twig or a rock or letting dirt slip through your fingers or playing with the water in the fountain or a puddle;

* tasting anything edible if you have a snack or a cup of tea nearby

3.  Walk even more slowly, breathe more slowly, perhaps pausing to stand still, noticing the changes of light and shadow, movement and stillness around you.  Pause to notice shifts within you, your energy, your mood.

4. Then lift your eyes to the horizon, sweeping across the hills, up to the vastness of the sky. Notice any shifts in your perspective as you shift from a micro to a macro view.

5.  At the end of your walk, take a moment to reflect on your overall experience, especially any shifts in your bodily felt experience.  Treasure the opening to stillness, to vastness, to a spaciousness that can hold the 10,000 joys, the 10,000 sorrows of a life.

One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of night in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.

—Rachel Carson