It was one of those moments. You know the kind. One of those times when you feel completely present and as though you are in the right place at the right time.
I had just gathered up an arm load of freshly cut firewood when I heard the sound of geese flying over. This time of year the sound of geese is heard frequently around here. I live near Jeffrey Energy Center’s cooling pond, a man-made lake and the deepest in the state, which helps cool the warm water coming from the electric generation plant. Because of this steady influx of warm water the lake remains unfrozen and becomes the winter home of thousands of Canada geese and other migratory fowl.
The geese make a daily pilgrimage from the lake into the river valley where they feed on leftover grain in the fields. It’s an awesome sight to see the sky full of geese and watch as they circle then land in numbers large enough that the fields turn completely white.
On this day the flock flying over was small in number, only about 40 geese, but they were flying low and traveled right over my head. That’s when I felt “the moment”. I stopped with arms full of wood and looked up watching the birds fly over so close that I could see the individual colors of their feathers. Time seemed to stand still and I felt like the most fortunate person on this planet to be witnessing this particular convergence of events. In that moment I felt like a bookmark holding space for those who don’t have the opportunity to experience nature on a daily basis or are too busy to notice the wonders going on around them wherever they are.
It’s so easy to focus on what we need to do next, hurrying on to the next thing on our list, the next appointment, the next phone call that we forget to notice the wonder and the delights that are always surrounding us. Oh sure we get to cross things off our to-do list and may even feel proudly productive at the end of the day, but what might we have missed in the process? One thing I believe we miss is the opportunity to feel awe. What if the Universe is always providing us with moments that would take our breath away and provide unforgettable feelings of connection, but we were too busy and hurrying too fast to even notice? And that word – awe. When is the last time you experienced that feeling of overwhelming reverence for something? Yet, awe may be the most powerful feeling we can have. Awe somehow intersects joy, mystery and insight and we are humbled as a result.
University of California, Berkeley psychology professor, Dacher Keltner, found that when people experienced feelings of awe they were three times more likely to describe themselves as part of something larger. Keltner believes cultivating awe is a way to unlock the truest sense of life’s purpose.
This time of year we’re often too busy rushing along with our heads down, our jaws set, looking to the next thing to even make note of our own reflection — which likely appears as though we have been shot out of a wind tunnel. We believe we have too much to do to even think about what amazing sights, sounds or awesome experiences might be unfolding all around us.
Anytime of year it feels humbling to stand in awe of something, but this time of year it might be especially helpful to stop, stand still, and breathe, just being for awhile. We are, after all, human beings not human doings. Is it any less worthwhile to be a bookmark, holding a place, marking a special moment than it is to complete everything on our list? Are we any less valuable if we take the time to simply witness and appreciate the sharing of a smile, the warmth of the sun on our faces, or the flight of a flock of birds overhead?
Yes, these moments of wonder may make us feel small in comparison to the amazing natural world, or the limitlessness of a starlit sky, or the vastness of the ocean but at the same time they can allow us the opportunity to also feel connected to all that is – even that which is larger and greater than us.
If life is in the details, then every moment holds the opportunity for wonder, insight and, yes, awe.