One thing Nordic skiers know for sure: it’s good for the soul to be outside. In any conditions, all kinds of weather, winter or summer. Why? Because it’s a ski, hike, or bike away from stumbling upon a moose and her calf (yikes), a smoldering sunset (wow), a field of wildflowers, (gasp!) or a frost-painted meadow (whoa).
A silent sport in a beautiful landscape opens up the opportunity for feeling awe—and athletes, physicians, and researchers are touting awe’s capacity to boost our wellness, change our brains, and improve our lives.
And even though we’re not on skis right now, we can still fine-tune the sense of awe we feel on the trails and in the mountains, no matter the season.
But first, what is awe? According to Greater Good Magazine, the University of California/Berkley publication that reports on science-based insights for a meaningful life, it’s the feeling we get “in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.”
There’s been an enormous surge in interest in awe, largely due to a recent book by psychologist Dacher Keltner. Keltner’s research suggests experiencing awe helps us reduce stress, tune out our inner critic, and act more altruistically. In Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder, he lays out awe’s benefits, including calming the nervous system and triggering the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone that promotes trust and bonding.
Finding Awe: A Beginner’s Guide
Keltner shares these ways to cultivate more awe in everyday life:
- Pay attention. Simply pause, take a breath, and get good at noticing things in general. Awe can live in small and simple things too.
- Focus on the “moral beauty” of others. Witness the goodness people do all around you; it inspires more of the same.
- Practice mindfulness. Meditate, pray, and tune out distractions so awe can enter.
- Choose the unfamiliar page. Novelty sparks awe; change your commute, try a new workout or coffee shop, and sample other resorts, hobbies, trails, and destinations.
Awe Around You: Awe-Inspiring Colorado Destinations
We suggest a road bike at sunset through the red rock canyons and rock towers with a distant view of the Book Cliffs. Fantastic bonus: Explore the Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, 36,000 acres of rugged wilderness, where 80 to 120 wild mustangs live free.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Standing on the edge of this canyon that’s deeper than the height of the Empire State Building will give you goosebumps, jelly knees, and a little bit of that thrill/dread mix that can be a component of awe. More awe: Book a rafting trip down the Black River for the reverse perspective.
This preserve covers seven square miles of ancient homes and ceremonial building sites from the original Pueblo inhabitants. Awe multiplied: Join a Summer Solstice or Fall Equinox sunrise tour to greet the sun from the Great House; visitors walk the nature trail in the dark and welcome the sun with live Native flute music.
The Great Stupa
Full name: The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya Which Liberates Upon Seeing. The ornate Buddhist monument in the Red Feather Lakes area is an inspiring symbol of peace. Awe for the duration: Book a multi-day retreat at the Shambhala Center, where the Stupa is located, and come back refreshed, centered, and well-fed.