Awe can be loosely defined as: a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.
When I mentioned to Melissa that we could cover awe this month, she offered some Led Zeppelin for us because it starts with Awe. Flashbacks for sure. Also probably a better opener than my silly line, "Open up and say AWE!" which I always wanted plastered on a Tshirt with picture of a tongue dispenser.
In Chapter 3 of the Thrivability Breakthroughs book, I tell this story:
In the painted desert of Petrified Forest National Park, I marveled at the rocks that were once trees. I thought of all the years it took those huge trees to grow. And then for them to fall into a swamp and become rock. And for that rock to now be in the middle of a desert. My own life seemed so short in comparison. A batter of the eyelashes of time. In that moment, all my daily worries became of no consequence.
It is not nature that needs us. It is we that need nature.
I looked up to the stars. Time functions in the universe on a scale that the human mind struggles and fails, over and over again, to really comprehend. Looking at the stars, I realized how egocentric we are — worrying about ‘our’ environment. In the context of the universe, this blip in time is one experiment among zillions. We could destroy everything on our planet and the universe would continue on. There is something freeing about thinking of it this way. But this perspective isn’t a license to destroy the planet and it demands that I take the responsibility to care for what is around me. No one see is going to care for what is around me — and what I depend on — as much as I am.
That chapter is called Seeing a Bigger Picture. What I was hoping to convey in that passage was both how big it all is, this feeling of awe in being part of something so much bigger than me, and that it is coupled with my responsibility, my tiny part of that whole. I believe this way of being with the world is crucial to our efforts to cocreate a more thrivable world. It is critical that we hold ourselves humbly in face of something so much bigger than any of us and that we each desire to be part of that vastness, to contribute something to it.
For millennia we have been warning each other of the dangers of hubris. Greek tragedies often focus on humbling the arrogant. And the age of machines and modernism so utterly embodies human arrogance, centering ourselves and our imaging that we could control it all. Humbly now, we come before the ripples, pouring out of our big plans as unintended consequences to our environment and other people. Let us recall our awe and be infused with the wonder and fear of it.
This month, explore awe with us.
And this week, looking through the lens of the personal experience of awe comes first. What is your own experience of awe? Where have you been touched by it? How has awe had an impact on what you do and how you do it, personally?