“Awe”, The Antidote to BusynessMarch 16, 2023
By: Eli Shostak
If, for a month, you collected a dollar every time someone said how busy and/or tired they were, how much cash would you end up with? Enough for new shades? Shades and sun hoody? Shades, sun hoody, and Chacos?
Busy and tired earn top points for adjectives-most-often-used when describing our current state of affairs. Without feeling one or both, what would we be doing with our lives? Being relaxed and rested? Who does that?
For anyone who’s interested in exploring life beyond being busy and tired, experiencing awe (often found on river trips, more on that later) has been shown to calm jangled nerves, quiet negative self-talk, and expand our sense of time. It turns out these feelings are antidotes to being a trainwreck. Awe is a low-cost, easy-to-access, healthy, and positive cure for today’s common afflictions. Let’s look at how it works and how you can win.
For those who need science to validate what experience is teaching us, consider these findings by Melanie Rudd, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker in their paper, Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being. In 2008, researchers interviewing 1000 people found 47% of interviewees felt they had too much to do and not enough time to do it. While this research wasn’t exactly done yesterday, can we agree that life hasn’t gotten easier to manage? If anything, people are more harried than before. Furthermore, they suggest experiencing “time famine” increases our trouble sleeping, stress, difficulty delaying gratification, and postponing seeing a doctor when ill. Not a great situation.
Ok, now let’s consider the solution. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, defines awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world”. While many of us associate awe with total showstopper moments in life, Keltner asserts that awe can be accessed when we encounter “vastness”. The good news is vastness can be found in such simple places as acts of kindness, watching a sunrise/sunset, or in our relationships. Our jaws need not be on the floor when awe comes to town
When we encounter vastness or have an immersive experience with something way beyond our daily grind we have to stop and take it all in. Our inner voice (which is often critical and ruminative) shuts up, our awareness trains on the present, and time stretches out like Silly Putty. This slowing makes a moment feel expansive and rich, exactly the opposite of the shallow, rushed reality we generally inhabit; the one making us feel busy and tired.
In her New York Times article How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health, Hope Reese provides a list of ways for developing our sense of awe. Lucky for us, her to-do list is baked into the type of rafting and biking adventures offered by Holiday River Expeditions. Like learning a different language, sometimes an immersive approach, like going on a multi-day trip drenched in awe, is the best way to integrate a new awareness.
Since you’re reading a blog put out by a company that offers excellent adventures, you might already have a sense of the opportunities we find on wild vacations; those truly cosmic and limitless experiences which abound when we go outdoors. But what about this list of awe-inspiring material? Let’s look at Reese’s list and how it aligns with a Holiday journey.
- Pay Attention: Learning how to have fun and be safe in a new environment means paying attention. Staying in our seats when charging rapids, understanding how to keep warm and dry, or being blasted by moonlight when we leave the tent for a nighttime pee, our attention is demanded during adventurous experiences. With our awareness honed to the moment, awe floods in.
- Focus on the Moral Beauty of Others: Reese mentions Keltner’s observation, “One of the most reliable ways to experience awe, Dr. Keltner found, was in the simple act of witnessing the goodness of others. When we see others doing small gestures… we start feeling better and are also more likely to perform good deeds”. Guides who bring us coffee in the morning, keep us comfortable when things get challenging, and recognize how to leverage the present moment to facilitate transformational journeys provide ample opportunities to see moral beauty. This orientation to service often spreads throughout a group and awe abounds.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness, defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally,” is another gateway to awe. Being present, often hard to do with the usual distractions swirling around us, becomes easier when we go beyond the bars of reception.
- Choose the Unfamiliar Path: Reese continues, “Awe often comes from novelty. So gravitating toward the unexpected can set us up to experience awe”. This is baked into an HRE trip like colorful chewy bits in a fruit cake. Let’s just say adventures are characterized by opportunities to take an unfamiliar path and celebrate the unexpected.
It’s time to choose a new line through the tumult; stop being busy and tired and soak up the abundant awe life has to offer. Holiday River Expeditions can surely lead you along this path; their inventory of awe-inspiring journeys is expansive and, if you don’t see something just right, they can customize an adventure for a group of awe-seekers. Awe abounds and it’s time to heed the call. Will you tune in?
Eli Shostak is a Lecturer of Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College. A former river guide, NOLS Course Leader, and sea kayaking instructor, he is a firm believer in the power of shared experiences in wild places. Eli is dedicated to using his expertise in mindfulness, leadership, and expedition planning to facilitate journeys for finding the personal and interpersonal benefits of exploring diverse landscapes. His favorite game to play on trips is called “Knuck Tats,” something you’ll have to ask him about.