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Cultivating Awe

Updated: May 5, 2023

As I have been launching my new website I have been going through old blogs and deciding which of those blogs are still relevant and timely and worth bringing over to my new site. This one from February 2, 2009, is one of my favorites:

In a workshop in Portland I attended the late Irish poet John O'Donahue said: “The visible is the first shoreline of the invisible.” This statement touched me deeply and rang so very true. I believe that beauty is the place where the invisible touches the visible, where the divine penetrates and makes contact with the human, where the unknown mystery makes contact with the known. Thinking about this lately, I am realizing that one function of mindfulness is to provide a bridge from the invisible to the visible so that this encounter can happen. Without this meeting life often becomes a boring drudgery, without much meaning or vitality. We live on the shore of this invisible and awesome mystery and yet in our busyness and in our distracted lives, we do not take the time to stop and notice and to breathe it in.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about mindfulness is that human beings need this encounter with this mystery to be fully alive and to find joy. I talk to so many people who are hungry for joy and beauty, whose soul’s are starving from the lack of soul nourishment in their lives. Yet, that nourishment is simply a breath away. All we have to do is stop long enough and grow quiet and suddenly the awe and mystery of our lives begin to whisper to us. We begin to hear the forgotten song of our own aliveness once again.

In this my daughter has been a wonderful teacher for me of late. She is 22 months old and everything to her right now is amazing. Every time she sees the moon she points and exclaims, “Moon!” as if there was nothing else more incredible than that, as if to question how I could go on with the routine of my evening when this incredible thing is hanging in the sky. And every time she hears a story she loves, even if she has heard the story thirty times before, she is full of joy and excitement, as if it is a whole new story and a whole new experience. I think she goes through her days being amazed by everything, so touched and in touch with the miracle of her being here. She is constantly being touched by joy. What would it be like to go through life like that, in constant amazement, full of gratitude and awe?

Meditation and mindfulness teachers often talk about having a beginner’s mind which is, I think, having a mind like a young child’s. We see so much of our lives through our rational filters, through the layers of our past experiences, through a jaded “been there, done that” mentality that we actually do not have a live encounter with the moment. We are living at a remove from our lives. How do we reestablish an intimate relationship with our own lives, where we actually touch our lives and are touched by them? What would it be like to greet this next breath as if it was your first breath or your last? How would you see the moon if you were going blind and were never going to see it again?

I remember seeing my daughter on the ultrasound for the first time. Both my wife and I were in tears and I turned to her and said, “Look what we created.” and then, “Look what 15 billion years of creation and evolution has created.” I do wonder at times what it would be like to live with this consciousness much more of the time, that this improbable moment, this aliveness and love in my heart and beauty all around me, is possible because of the 15 billion years of stars exploding and stars being born and galaxies forming and dying and planets being created and crumbling and molecules and atoms being created and destroyed and really the whole universe needing to conspire to make this moment possible.

I have the sense that the beauty of the world is an incredible gift that is there to help us get through the challenges, difficulties and pain of our lives, yet we have to be willing to take the time to receive the gift. It is our habituated minds that keep us from a true encounter with life, with the beauty and mystery around us.

Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to turn off the automatic pilot of our habits and to be pierced once again by the miracle of our shimmering beautiful aliveness.

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