Transcendence and Awe

Transcendence and Awe

As the days blur by, there’s nothing so good as awe to give you a much-needed dose of transcendance. Researchers define awe as being in the presence of something immense that bypasses your understanding and challenges the way you typically relate to the world. A jaw dropping view, music that makes your hair stand on end, a poem that takes the top of your head off, a piece of art that literally changes how you see, are all experiences than can and will induce awe. Children, with their beginner’s mind, attend to the experience of awe more readily than adults, who tend to inure themselves against being wonderstruck. But awe is good for you—good for your spirit, heart and even health. 

Awe creates a sense of beneficial smallness, reminding you that you are minute and infinite all at once. Awe makes the world becomes larger as your personal self, with all its worries and concerns, recedes from view. In the brief moments of awe, perception centers a more inclusive and interconnected matrix. Awe helps you zoom out; that’s why it’s often linked to the overview effect—the profound reaction astronauts experience when they are seeing the earth from space. 

The meditation-awe connection

Akin to the overview effect—call it the innerview—is what happens during meditation, when you can seem to float above yourself from a vantage point once removed. In many ways, meditation and awe elicit similar responses. Research suggests that awe has numerous psychological benefits, including increased life satisfaction, which was linked to a sense of time slowing down or standing still. That sense of having more time was what made people more satisfied with their lives. The sensation of time slowing also happens in meditation. By focusing on your internal sensations, or your breath, your brain waves shift to a slower rhythm allowing the sense of time to expand and time pressures to recede. Notably, researchers also found that awe, which helps you to tap into the awareness of belonging to something greater than yourself, can increase feelings of altruism. Similarly, numerous studies show that meditating increases compassionate behavior. 

As the philosopher William James said, experience is what you agree to attend to. Awe pairs well with the intrepidly curious. Unsure of how you can exercise your awe muscle, and be ready to attend to awe when it strikes? Here are three ways to get some awesome on. 

Take a seat

Meditation can prime you for a receptivity to awe, thus making these kinds of indelible experiences more likely to occur. A consistent meditation practice slows you down, allows you to notice the subtle, and heightens your senses. You develop an appreciation for the big picture. You start to open to— and trust—the immediacy of your experience. Inquiring within, aka sitting, thrives on the spirit of exploration. And in the rare moments that your mind goes quiet, you get an intimate overview, in which you see yourself from far away, held in something larger than the mind can grasp. 

Go on an awe walk

Transform an ordinary walk into a gob smacker simply by paying close attention. Walk somewhere new, as novelty lends to freshness, even if it’s just going down a different block or reversing your typical route. You can also try going out at different times of day, think dawn or dusk, or in different weather. Observe details, trying to see everything as if it was new, the essence of beginner’s mind. Focus on the world outside your head rather than sinking in the quicksand of your thoughts. 


The link between astronomy and awe is almost a cliché. Neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall defined awe as an “overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness.” Nothing fits that bill more aptly than gazing at the milky way or the streak of a shooting star—a cosmic fireworks show on mute. Best practices for stargazing are to head to a dark spot in the country, or if you are a city dweller, get up as high as you can so other buildings don’t obstruct your view.

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