by David Rothstein

Thinking about my upcoming Nature Retreat, the question came to me: When did I first experience a sense of awe? Looking back, it wasn’t in my childhood; it was in my teen years, and that is woefully late to experience awe, I think.

I remember a beautiful summer day on the farm where I grew up, walking to a hilltop alone, seeing the distant rolling hills, the wind waving across a field, sturdy oak trees, and slow moving clouds above. I remember feeling the wonder of this broad view, the beauty and peacefulness around me, but mostly feeling awe at the expanse of this creation.

That moment stays with me, and opened me to awe at other vistas, other sites of natural beauty, great and small.

Awe, aware and maybe alone seem to be closely related. If I hadn’t been alone that day, would I have been quiet enough to be aware of the awesome landscape before me? I think that’s why I hadn’t experienced awe in my childhood—it was too full of noisy activity.

I believe a sense of awe and wonder could really help the world at this time in our planetary history when more of nature is disappearing to human use. Our world is becoming more human-centered, and we are losing a vital, healthy connection to nature. Maybe awe is the key to preserving the natural world, and preserving our own nature.

But how do we learn awe if from the time we are born we are surrounded only with human technology, human interactions? For me it was the good fortune of having open land to explore as a kid; it was the influence of a sci-fi novel series I was reading that talked about the power of The Land; and it was my interest in Zen meditation that opened me to quietness. But no person taught me directly.

We can change that. If you have kids or know kids, take them outdoors. Teach them to be quiet and aware of the awesome sights around them. Model awe for them. If you need to learn it yourself, spend more time outdoors and be aware.

Also, you are invited to my Contemplative Nature Retreat in October, where we will practice awe. (Click here for more information.)