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Finding the Awe in You

When I was 20 years old and in crisis, I climbed Mt. Kenya with a group of wayward young adults in an outdoor leadership program (that I saved up for by waiting tables and cleaning motel rooms one summer). Essentially, I had to get as far away from home and Africa seemed like a good enough distance.  

The head guides, a young married couple, gave us some basic instructions and reprimanded those of us who snuck in toilet paper in backpacks. We hiked up slowly in order to acclimate yet quickly discerned the complainers in the bunch. Once at the top, we were randomly put into teams for the first venture of getting back down to basecamp and voted for who would lead each team. (Anyone with camping experience?)

It turned out I was on the losing team. We got very lost. We didn’t follow the map; we had boiling blisters from unbroken hiking boots; our bodies hurt; we froze at night and overheated during the day. Over two days we fought, cried and laughed. It was both painful and exhilarating. It seemed like I was in some kind of paradise conjured from my imagination, but it was real.  Avatar had yet to be conceived and filmed. This was some secret spot on planet earth and I was a mere creature in it. I understood the true meaning of awe.  


Noun [aw]

an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful.

The other two teams, who quickly found their way down the straight dirt path in a half day, missed the beauty of the ravines, a surprise encounter with a baby elephant, the glorious flowers, bamboo thickets, the fragrance, and dappled light.  It was one of the most formative and spiritual experiences in my life.

There are no straight lines if you want to grow your soul. It does help to have a guide and some basic tools, but more often than not the wise guide is inside of you. You are it.

There are no straight lines if you want to grow your soul.

Climbing that mountain may be a cliché for life or an overused metaphor. But that’s because it’s apt. I literally had to climb a 17K foot mountain to see the simple truth: I was ok after all. More than ok. I was stronger than I had believed.

We don’t have to go anywhere at all to discover this humbling truth. But sometimes we need to go great distances within ourselves to get perspective. And sometimes we have to begin all over again. And again.

That takes courage and patience.

It’s the same thing with self-compassion, a skill I practice and teach.  Being kind to oneself can be unchartered territory at first. But with guidance, a spirit of adventure, and emerging faith and goodwill, self-compassion reveals the beauty that has been there all along, calluses and all.

Matters in Kind 

  • Check out the Greater Good Science Center Awe Quiz. Awe is a relatively new area of study. Awe has been linked to kindness, humility, focus and better health.
  • Read Chapter 17, The Naturalness of Being, in my book The Kindness Cure.


Photo Credits:

Cagatay Orhan

Tim Foster

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