Last Updated on August 17, 2022
Did you know that trees can use scent to communicate with each other?
According to the author of The Hidden Life of Trees, scientists in the 70s noticed something interesting while giraffes were feeding on acacia trees in the African savannah.
The trees (understandably) wanted the giraffes to stop nibbling them, so they pumped out a toxic substance that made their leaves unpleasant to eat.
The giraffes didn’t like this one bit, so they abandoned the tree – but they also avoided other trees of the same species until they were about 100 yards away.
Why? Because the acacia trees were emitting a warning gas to neighboring trees letting them know that a crisis was at hand.
In turn, those neighboring trees pumped out toxins into their leaves to discourage the giraffes from eating them as well.
I was in awe when I read this.
It made me realize how much I truly don’t know about trees and what they’re capable of, even though I’m surrounded by them here in the Pacific Northwest.
This concept of awe is something I’ve been exploring since reading Julia Baird’s memoir, Phosphorescence.
In the book, Baird shares how she experiences awe every morning during her daily swims in the ocean alongside cuttlefish, turtles, and whaler sharks.
She says that experiencing awe is one of the ways that we become truly present in our lives.
While I don’t have plans to go swimming in open water every morning (the Puget Sound would not treat me well), it made me think about how awe shows up in my own life.
In a Carrie Bradshaw sort of way, I couldn’t help but wonder: is awe something we should be pursuing in our everyday lives?
“I think this is how we’re supposed to be in the world – present and in awe.”– Anne Lamott
Why should we care about awe?
Awe is a fascinating emotion because it can help us appreciate life while simultaneously making us feel insignificant.
When we experience a sense of awe, we become acutely aware that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
There’s nothing more humbling than realizing you’re insignificant.
And at the same time, you realize that everything you do is so important. We all have an essential role to play in our lifetimes.
In that sense, experiencing awe seems to be one of the best ways to ground yourself, especially when you’re caught up in the details of life.
According to mindful.org, “Awe may help stop us from ruminating on our problems and daily stressors. Instead, awe seems to pull us out of ourselves and make us feel immersed in our surroundings and the larger world.”
Those small things that you’re worried about become insignificant when you start to think about the vastness of the universe.
If we can experience more awe in our daily lives, we may be able to quieten the self-doubt and overwhelm that hold us back from enjoying the present moment.
“The central idea of awe is to quiet self-interest for a moment and to fold us into the social collective.”– Julia Baird
How to pursue awe in your life
If awe can help ground us, it makes sense that we should seek out moments of awe on a regular basis.
How? Let me count the ways.
Awe can come from admiration. You might feel awe when you see someone else doing something you never even thought was possible. Try finding new people to learn from.
Awe can come from hope, like when you see people coming together for good. Join a group of people who care about the things you care about.
It can come from witnessing beauty. French philosopher Simone Weil said only two things pierce the human heart: beauty and affliction. Life brings us plenty of affliction, so we must seek out beauty when we can.
French philosopher Simone Weil said only two things pierce the human heart.— David Morris (@wdmorrisjr) February 13, 2022
One is beauty.
The other is affliction.
Life brings you affliction. In buckets.
This leaves a longing in your soul for beauty.
But to find it, you must know it.
Awe-inspiring beauty is everywhere. A book or film can change you as a person, music might move you to tears, and art has the power to leave you speechless. Seek these things out as often as you can.
Of course, one of the most obvious ways to find awe is to observe the outside world.
Look up at the stars at night. Observe how many there are and think about how much is unknown about the universe beyond us. Every time I see the moon, I’m humbly reminded that we’re all just living on a floating rock in the middle of space.
Look at the trees and ponder how old they are, how long they’ve survived, and how they communicate with one another.
Find a river, lake, waterfall, beach – anywhere with water. Notice how the water flows and let it run between your fingers.
Pay attention to animals and insects. Notice how they’re not worried about their purpose in life. There’s nothing they need to do except eat, sleep, and communicate with each other. They focus on being.
We’re so concerned with what we’re supposed to be doing on this planet. In reality, we just need to be who we are.
There are so many ways to experience awe in your daily life. The key is to pay attention to the magic.
“If you can be in awe of your life every day — be in awe of everything — then you have a lot of source material for your thankfulness.”– Jennifer Healey
When was the last time you felt a sense of awe? What or who are you in awe of?
P.S. Know of any other books or movies on this topic? Share your recommendations in a comment below!
I’ve been a regular reader of your blog for some time and while I love every one of your posts, this one is probably my favorite yet! I remember learning about this concept back in college in a Philosophy of Art class when they talked about awe and the experience of the sublime. In class, my professor used the example of feeling tiny when we witness great acts of nature like a thunder storm, or we see an amazing view from a mountaintop, etc. I completely forgot about this topic until your blog post and I’m so glad to have read this and remembered this feeling. Thank you for all you do!
Wow Kayla, that’s so kind of you to say! I’m so glad I hit publish on this one because it was sitting in my drafts for a looong time :) Awe definitely does make us feel tiny but in the best way!
Very deep & profound article! I was touched and inspired by reading it. Thanks you very much!
It also made me want to read the book mentioned Phosphorescence, but in another way, you did a good job of showing where I could find things that could lit me up and bring me awe, and I think I just need to look for them in my life, not in a book ;-) Connecting to myself and finding what resonates personally (well, could be a book haha). Have a great day!
Haha I will say the book was good in the beginning when it talked about awe, but the second half was about different topics that didn’t really flow. I wish the whole book was about awe really :)
Enjoy this article very much. I know when I have experienced awe, it leaves me calmer and reassured that we are “looked after” and the miracles of creation whether they are nature, human, or the beautiful and helpful things humans create.
I also enjoy your pictures with “what to read next”. Pink and white are my favorite colors and your drinks always look delicious. Stay blissful, C.
So glad you enjoyed this, Candace! I love that idea of being looked after by something bigger than ourselves. And glad you like the pictures too! :)
Beautifully written & insightful post, thank you. I’ve found myself experiencing more “awe” of the world now I’m pregnant and feeling more in turn with my body. I often go on long walks & try to be outside as much as possible so I can reconnect with the everyday things we’ve become immune too, like your tree example.
Thank you so much, Rose! I can only imagine how much awe comes from being pregnant and knowing that you’ve created a tiny human! I’m in awe of all mothers.