Wandering Walks: Using Awe to Discover the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
By The Mindful Leader Team
What is Awe?
Awe is a complex and elusive emotion that can be challenging to define. Unlike most emotions, it can evoke both positive and negative feelings and can arise from various sources. For example, it can inspire feelings of wonder and fascination, but also overwhelm and disorientation. Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt proposed a conceptual approach to understanding awe in a seminal 2003 paper. They identified two key components of awe experiences: perceived vastness and novelty.
Two key components of awe experiences: perceived vastness and novelty.
Perceived vastness can arise from encountering physically large objects or from experiencing the presence of someone with prestigious or complex ideas. Novelty arises when the environment exceeds your expectations, prompting you to rethink the world around you (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).
There are many potential benefits to incorporating awe into your daily life. Awe has been found to be associated with self-diminishment and an increased sense of connectedness with others. It can induce a self-transcendent state where individuals focus less on themselves and feel a part of something larger. It has also been linked to increased well-being and life satisfaction (Rudd et al., 2012). It can provide a sense of meaning and purpose, and foster a deeper appreciation for life. Awe has the power to evoke positive emotions such as joy, wonder, and inspiration. It can be considered both an emotional state and an altered state of consciousness, akin to a flow state.
Mindfulness and Awe
Awe and mindfulness are related in the sense that both involve a heightened state of awareness and present-moment focus. Awe often elicits a sense of being fully present and engaged with the awe-inspiring stimulus, whether it's a natural wonder or a profound idea. Similarly, mindfulness cultivates an intentional and non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. By practicing mindfulness and being fully present in the moment, you can begin to notice new things around you that invoke a sense of awe. Both awe and mindfulness can enhance our capacity to appreciate and connect with the world around us, leading to a greater sense of wonder, gratitude, and interconnectedness.
In this article, as a way to help incorporate awe into your daily practice, we will explore a wandering walk practice that you can utilize even when you’re in your workplace. You can do this practice on your lunch break, a break between meetings, or some other similar opening in your day.
Step 0 - Finding a Place for Your Walk and Beginning
With an open and curious mind, awe can be found in almost any environment. When deciding on a setting for your wandering walk, it is important to remember the two key factors: perceived vastness and novelty. Some examples of settings are a forest with large trees, a city sidewalk with large skyscrapers, the top of a tall building, a park with a beautiful fountain, a hallway with vast windows, or a trail with mountain views. Another example is if when entering your workplace each morning, you take a direct path to exactly where you need to be, consider instead wandering around the building and exploring parts you have never seen before.
You are most likely to experience awe in a setting that is new to you. However, it is possible that there are locations that no matter how many times you visit, you experience awe. Try to choose a location that resonates with your personal preferences and interests. Feel free to experiment with different settings to find the one that most resonates with you. The crucial factor, regardless of your location, lies in cultivating the appropriate mindset. This exercise aims to assist you in achieving that state, enabling you to transform an ordinary walk into a sequence of awe-inducing instances brimming with wonderful surprises.
To begin, turn off your cell phone, put it on silent mode, or even leave it behind if that is possible. The goal is to limit distractions as much as you can.
Embrace a childlike wonder and approach your surroundings as if you have never seen them before.
Step 1 - Beginning Breath
Throughout the walk, you will utilize a breathing technique called equal breathing. Equal breathing involves the inhale and exhale of breath to be equal durations. For example, inhale 6 and exhale 6. Equal breathing promotes balance, centers the mind, and helps individuals draw their focus to the present moment. It will help guide you into the proper mindset for the wandering walk.
Once you are in your chosen setting, before you begin walking, turn your attention to your breath. Practice a few rounds of equal breathing and while doing so, set the intention to let go of your mind's desire to analyze and categorize your surroundings, and instead focus on exploring the emotional impact your surroundings have on you by attentively observing the embodied experience of the "felt presence."
Step 2 - Notice your Surroundings and Begin Walking
Now bring your attention to where your feet or other parts of your body connect to the ground. Notice the sounds around you, maybe the sounds of cars on the road, a water fountain, or even bugs buzzing around. Then, notice the smells around you, maybe food from a nearby restaurant or the woodiness of the trees. Feel the wind on your face or notice the taste of the air. Throughout the walk, continue to engage all of your senses and allow yourself to experience the environment around you fully.
Slowly begin walking and again, embrace a childlike curiosity and follow where your mind takes you. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly and without purpose or care. You might notice a series of cracks in the ground, an interesting poster in a window, the way the light is reflecting, or patterns in the leaves and flowers. Allow your attention to move from the vast to the small. Remember that the thing you focus on could be something you see, something you hear, something you smell, or something you feel.
Take your time and do not rush. Allow yourself to fully experience whatever your mind desires.
Step 3 - Shifting Focus
As you continue on your walk if at any point you feel your mind losing focus or falling back into an analytical mindset, pause and turn your attention back to your breath and practice equal breathing. If you feel comfortable, you can go a step further by closing your eyes to help deepen your shift of attention. After repeating this however many times you feel necessary, again shift your focus to your surroundings and find the next thing your childlike curiosity is caught by.
Step 4 - Finishing Your Walk
As you slowly come to the end of your walk, take a moment to once again embrace all of the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells around you. Feel your feet on the ground and notice how the ground is bearing your weight. Embrace the sense of wonder that you cultivated during the walk. Then, as you come to a stop, once again return to your equal breathing and feel it as it passes through your nostrils and into your chest. Thank yourself for taking this time to nurture your spirit and bathe in awe.
As you practice wandering walks more and more, you might begin to discover just how many opportunities you have for one. It is all about finding that novelty and wonder wherever you are.
Remember that incorporating awe into your daily life can enhance well-being, foster creativity, broaden perspective, and deepen social connections. We want to encourage you to continue to find more moments that inspire a sense of awe within you even when you are not on a wandering walk. These moments can be found in various aspects of life, such as nature, art, relationships, and personal growth. Embrace each awe-inspiring moment and let them guide you and fulfill a sense of wonder.
What are some of your experiences that have invoked awe? If you incorporated this practice into your workday, how did it go? What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of an awe walk? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 17(2), 297–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930302297 Rudd, M., Vohs,
D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130–1136. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612438731