Seven ways to cultivate awe

Awe – the emotion we experience as reverential respect – always includes wonder. It sometimes, also, includes an element of fear.

We feel awe when we encounter something which, often larger than ourselves, challenges our understanding of the world. Experiences of wonder and awe take us outside ourselves and into a different realm. They are mysterious and mystifying.

These complex emotions occur when we encounter vast enigmas we can’t understand. We describe the feelings as amazement, inspiration or trancendence.

Two things happened recently which caused me to think more about awe. The first included seeing snow at close range for the first time in my eighty-five years. You can read about that here.

The second event was when I viewed an episode of Compass on ABC TV recently. Journalist and author, Julia Baird, presented a program called ‘The Awe Hunters‘. Her book, Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goe dark, written after she experienced a severe illness, was published in 2021.

What are the effects of awe?

The effects include physical, psychological and spiritual changes. Examples of the physical effects might be changes in heart rate, goosebumps and the sensations of chills. They can reduce stress and promote peace and calm.

According to psychologist, Dache Keltmore,

‘Awe can prompt joy, gratitude and links to better health and welbeing.’

Research shows that people recently exposed to this emotion are kinder, more environmentally friendly and better connected to others. They may also appear more humble and less self-centred.

The experiences feel good.

sunset over ocean awe

Some of my own experiences

Some of these I remember from childhood.

  • A child during World War II, I remember my excitement and fear when search-lights swept the sky every night over the then little city of Perth.
  • Wonderful times during liturgy in the chapel at my Catholic school, when the flowers, music and candles created an atmosphere of beauty and peace.
  • As a midwife and mother, I experienced every birth in which I participated as miraculous. As a grandmother, I’m privileged to have been present at the births of a number of my grandchildren. I always felt the same emotions in spite of different contexts each time..
  • Watching a baby grow, especially in the first eighteen month of life, creates emotions of wonder at each new development.
  • The first time I heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and felt transported to another place.
  • A willy-willy when I was alone in the desert in the Pilbara. Awesome, it filled me with excitement and I experienced a frisson of fear. I wrote about the experience in my book, Other Peoples Country.
  • Streets lined with flowering myrtle trees during my recent visit to Myrtleford in Victoria. The sheer volume of blossom created an abundance almost impossible to comprehend.
  • The sun between clouds on a car trip yesterday with one of my sons. Because I was driving, I got my son to take photos.
  • And of course the snow fields at Falls Creek which caused breathlessness, and increased heartbeat. Warmly dressed, I felt goosebumps.
Myrtle  trees in Myrtleford

How can we cultivate awe?

Awesome events happen all of the time. To experience awe, we need to open our senses to what is around us, and even to set up experiences when it is more likely to happen. Here are a few suggestions of things I plan to try:

Spend more time in nature. Look at trees, bark, water, the sky and clouds at different times of the day and during different seasons.

Think about people who inspire you. Recall times when a person has prompted feelings of amazement because of their charisma or their accomplishments.

Actively seek awesome experiences. Walk, swim, ski, paddle, touch, smell and listen. Lie on your back and observe. Be with children and play with them.

Linger. Stay with, and enjoy, the feelings of amazement that occur. Don’t be too eager to rush to the next event, or even to reach for the camera. Be still and soak in what is in front of you.

Slow down. Awe needs time and space to surprise us. When we are too busy or rushing from one thing to the next, we lose space and time.

Recall. Remember and recount past experiences. Savour them, alone and with others.

Appreciate your senses. Consciously absorb colour, sound, scent and the texture of things in order to open up to amazement.

Journal. Write about experiences of awe. Describe and go deeper in the writing.


As always, I’d love to read your comments. Please write about what sends goosebumps along youtr arms and spine.

signature, maureen helen
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  1. What a beautiful post, Maureen.
    Yes! Experiencing awe uplifts one’s spirit.
    I love nature…my walks along a beach at sunset especially, my childhood farm, my own backyard, and my wonderful friends and family. In fact, awe, as you’ve articulated so well, can be encountered in almost everything!

  2. Love this blog Maureen.
    A sense of awe fell over me when I found out you swam kilometres a week.
    Very inspiring at the time as your article is now. Love your work dear Maureen

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