About three weeks ago, I picked the week of ‘awe’ out of the mindfulness challenge jar. It’s possibly my favourite task yet! The very first sentence got me excited. It said:
“When was the last time you were wonderstruck? When you couldn’t help but soak up the sheer scale and/or beauty of something?”
Wow. A challenge where I get to talk about the things that have blown my mind in my life! What more could I want?!
The idea of this challenge is that there are awe-inspiring entities all around us, and we should take the time to appreciate them and bring more awe into our lives. I had to go to a place which has objects or sights of great age, size or beauty – such as a forest, skyscraper or museum and look around with fresh eyes as though seeing these things for the first time. I should think about the many wonders of the world with appreciation and gratitude.
Now, I always make a conscious effort to pay attention and appreciate my surroundings and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. But I actually have quite a strong opinion on this, and it’s that general appreciation, even wonder, is a very different sensation to true awe.
I have been so fortunate to experience true awe a few times in my life and have been left ‘wonderstruck’ as the card states, by these things. To me, it’s the epitome of human joy. It is one of the most profound, beautiful and emotional sensations somebody can experience and the only thing close to it is reminiscing on those things. So here’s my list of the things that make or have made me feel awestruck in life so far:
1. Flying Over Icebergs
I took this photograph out of the plane window when I was lucky enough to travel to Los Angeles with my old job for a conference. It was as we had just flown over Greenland, my phone states that the location is between Greenland and ‘Baffin Island’ which is in Northern Canada. The entire trip was amazing (even the work part of it!), James flew out to meet me and we took a road trip up the West Coast of the US, visiting small towns and large cities along the way. It was one of the highlights of my entire life, and it was made all the more perfect by getting engaged mid-way through the trip! But of all of the amazing things we saw on the trip (including a bear and two cubs in Yosemite National Park!), this view is up there with one of the most incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off it all.
2. Bears in Yosemite
And talking about the bears in Yosemite, they’re up there with the most awe-inspiring things I’ve seen in life. We drove around Yosemite on our final day in the national park, hoping and pleading with the universe (OK – that was me, not James!) to just see a bear. Yosemite was spectacular, and the only thing that would top it off would be to see a bear.
As we were on our way back to our accommodation (a beautiful house in the middle of the woods like the one from Hansel and Gretel!), I spotted something and screeched to cause James to slam on. Over the road in the woods, I saw a large bear, and following it was two cubs. We had done our research and knew not to get out of the car (or open a window – apparently they’re really dangerous!) but given that they were quite far away, we opened the car windows and peered out at them. It was the most beautiful sight watching a mother bear and her two cubs, they disappeared into the depths of the forest and we couldn’t believe our luck that on the last day, in the last hour of daylight, we’d managed to see some!
3. New Year’s Eve Fireworks in London
The first year James and I were a couple, we spent our New Year in London. I was home for the holidays as I was living in Seville at the time, and I was so excited for our first mini-break together. At that time, visiting the Embankment area was free and there was no tickets or pre-booking required, we simply had to get inside the barriers early enough. We went for tea (or dinner, for my non-Northern readers!) in Chinatown, bought some beers and headed to the riverside, where there was a DJ and a real buzz about the place. We spent the rest of the evening drinking, chatting, revelling in the atmosphere, and eventually watched Big Ben count down to midnight.
It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life, and whether or not you agree with fireworks, it was a true spectacle. I’ve been a sucker for new year for as long as I can remember, and I remember watching the fireworks as tears streamed my face, feeling so blissfully content and lucky to be experiencing this with the love of my life. I cried as the fireworks lit up the sky, I cried as people around me hugged each other joyfully, and I cried as there was a collective singing of Auld Lang Syne. I was an emotional wreck! It was the best new year’s eve I’ve ever had, and probably will ever have in my life! I’m so grateful it happened.
4. Norwegian Fjords
Norway is my favourite country to date, and the nature and landscape is breathtaking. When we visited last, we were based in Bergen which was a beautiful city, but spent most of our trip exploring other parts. We used the Norway in a Nutshell tour as a basis for what places we absolutely had to see as tourists, but by hiring a car we also got to see so many more wonderful things and were able to explore more freely. We drove around so many beautiful villages, lakes, hidden gems and more, but I was stunned by the fjords. They were beyond comprehension, and I can’t wait for the day that we return!
5. The Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn
The night sky in itself is a spectacle, especially on a clear night. Whilst I’ve not yet been fortunate to experience the Northern Lights or the Milky Way, when I was camping this year in Snowdonia National Park (a dark-sky reserve) I did manage to see a completely clear sky, complete with shooting or falling stars, and the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It was such a wonderful view in the middle of the night, that I couldn’t help but stand and stare in sheer awe of what was above me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all those planets at the same time, and I was able to identify them thanks to the SkyView Lite app (and no I’m not on commission or an affiliate or whatever the hell those influencers do!)
6. New York City
New York City is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. There’s something amazing to see everywhere you turn, but for me, the moment I came out of a subway station after travelling from the airport was one to remember. After about a 6 or 7 hour flight as it was then, it was around 11pm in my body clock time and I was already starting to feel tired. NYC at that time were 5 hours behind, so I knew it would be still light outside when we finally made it out from the underground (or subway as it’s known there).
As we exited the subway and I looked up, I remember being completely in awe at the view above me, with skyscrapers and other buildings towering over me. I remember standing aside for a moment and taking it all in, the city was exactly how it appears in films and there was just something so magical about the place. I am desperate to go back one day!
7. Silence in Norway and Iceland
Iceland generally is a wonderful place, and there were so many awe-inspiring things there. Its landscape, everything shining with a brilliant whiteness, and the collection of waterfalls is breathtaking. But one thing that I was thrilled to experience in Iceland that we also experienced in Norway was the profound silence.
In Kerið Crater (as in the photo above) there was the same silence that we had encountered travelling along the fjords in Norway. Its a silence like nothing I’ve ever experienced, it feels like you’re in a vacuum. It was such a wonderful sensation to be somewhere that is so quiet, and the landscape defies belief. I would wholeheartedly recommend Iceland and Norway – they are such spectacular places.
If you’re interested in seeing more of Iceland, I created a highlights reel on my Instagram which you can see here.
8. Horses Running
I mean, this one’s kinda what it says on the tin. I just find it beautiful seeing horses running in vast open spaces. In Iceland (the amount of times I’ve mentioned Iceland in this post is making me wonder if I should write a post entirely dedicated to it!), my view out of our Airbnb cabin when I opened my eyes in the morning was Icelandic ponies running around a snowy field beneath the mountains. It was possibly the most majestic scene my eyes have ever witnessed.
There are, of course, other things in life that have filled me with awe. I have experienced it at many concerts, festivals and other live music performances. Live music brings me such tremendous joy and I’m often left feeling in awe of the artists I’m watching, I’ve really missed it this year.
Other more general times where I’ve felt the sensation of awe include when reading the book A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (I wrote about it here), seeing Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon live in theatre, watching the movie Joker and being by the sea generally (I adore the sea!). I’ve always wanted to see the Milky Way, Northern Lights and dive in the Great Barrier Reef, I think they’d evoke feelings of awe, too.
I believe that awe is one of the most pure, joyful emotion a human can feel. I’m so interested to hear what makes other people feel this sensation. What have you experienced that has left you feeling awestruck? What do I need to add to my life list?! Feel free to leave a comment!