Fostering Feelings of Awe

awesome view of water

Awe inspiring Presque Isle

Michiganders have always been my favorite group of people for many reasons. I LOVE the way that Michiganders love their state. From Detroit, to Grand Rapids, to Traverse City, to the Upper Peninsula – you would be hard pressed to find a Michigander who did not endorse and thoroughly enjoy the natural beauty of their state.


Awestruck in Michigan

Although I have not always been a year-rounder, I feel so strongly connected to the nature here. In the woods or on the water, sign me up to be outside! I find my mind eases when I realize the intricacies of the nature around me. I experience a calming effect when I allow the beauty of an inland lake to keep me in the present moment.


It becomes easier to sink into a peaceful and joyful head space where I can sit back in awe of the environment around me. 


A couple weeks ago I had a loved one say to me “I bet you feel better after that walk. Who could be anxious with all that natural beauty around? Something bigger than you created those woods”. This wise soul (hint: it was my mother) really made me think about the ways I could allow feelings of awe to help me put things in a healthier perspective.


What is this Feeling?

Awe is defined as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world. It is feeling small, but in the very best way. It is also a concept that can positively impact and bolster a mindfulness practice.


awed by the view of water

No human hands shaped this view …


Think about a time you climbed and climbed during a hike. Finally reaching the top to gaze at a magnificent view. Nothing you did created the view. No human hands shaped those mountains. And yet, the world gets to enjoy its splendor. That is awe-inspiring. Or maybe consider being in the woods. Or fishing. Think of all of the living creatures who benefit from the complex ecosystem you are visiting. Consider how all of the different characteristics make that ecosystem flourish. 


If you aren’t outdoors a lot – consider electricity. Or running water. Maybe beautiful clothing. Or a mind-boggling mystery novel that keeps you reading until the wee hours of the morning. Or your pets, who love you unconditionally and make you smile even during the toughest of times. Consider art, poetry, and other creative pursuits. Aren’t those things also awe-inspiring? How did we get so lucky?


Fostering Feelings of Awe …

Recently, using evidence-based materials, we focused on fostering feelings of awe in the Mindfulness Group at the Sanford Outpatient Center. Clinically speaking, recognizing feelings of awe in our everyday lives can be compared to a gratitude practice. Practicing gratitude has many, many health benefits – and can be integral in addiction recovery. After some research on the topic, I embarked to bring some awe-someness into the Mindfulness group. 


awe at the sunset


What Gives You Feelings of Awe?

I posed this question to the group: What gives you feelings of awe? The first items to come up were all related to nature. Because Michigan is a wonderland to many of us! Lake Michigan was discussed in detail. The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lake Shore was mentioned. One individual had a lot of amazing details to share regarding current space exploration discoveries. Favorite hiking trails, favorite fishing spots, favorite national parks.


 Slowly, all of us in the room started to really lean into the topic of “what awes us”. Magic was occurring.  


And as we continued, group members named experiences, events, and things that I could not have predicted. There were stories of loved ones striving and living up to their potential. Being proud parents. Watching others succeed. Poetry. Visual art. Singers – Broadway singers. Laughter with family. Having gratitude. The written word. Profoundly, the awe of being in recovery was explored. 


What a joyful conversation…

And so, I kept asking around. What a joyful conversation it has been. I asked coworkers, I asked loved ones, I asked strangers on the street (kidding, kidding). The answers have been incredible! The gift of sports. The gift of medical services and advances. Being in awe of being employed. Being in awe of the food we eat. Of the people we meet. Experiencing awe when we see fresh vegetables in a salad.


Awed by the farms we drive by – and the hardworking individuals who run them. Feeling awe when observing religious or spiritual practices. Experiencing awe when reunited with family and realizing that nothing has changed …. Awe for the gentle breeze that comes just before a sunrise or sunset.


And for all of us in the addiction treatment field, we are awed by the resiliency of the human spirit. Awed by the knowledge that we can – and do – recover. 


Compress Ali

Ali Kitchin grew up outside of San Francisco. But she spent two months every summer Up North in Traverse City, Michigan. And most of her extended family lives in Michigan, so she’s glad to call Grand Rapids home these days. Ali has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Baylor University. And a recent master’s degree from Baylor University. Ali's primary role is facilitating group therapy in the Sanford Outpatient Center. She is also researching and developing a new evidence-based mindfulness group for Sanford and brimming with article ideas for Excursions!