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An Awe Primer
















Recent studies, detailed in Dacher Keltner’s new book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, show robust evidence that humans are wired for awe. He presents evidence that awe improves and supports your health by stimulating your vagus nerve, which slows your heart rate, boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation and may help with a variety of chronic conditions. Awe also helps build community and connection by activating the vagus nerve which “orients you to be open to the world and to other people” and “allows you to vocalize, it allows you to look at people in the eyes.”


We need awe like we need vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and carbs. Neglect it and your health may suffer. Skip awe in your everyday life and your effectiveness at work and in your relationships may slip. Get enough and you’ll be more relaxed, curious, and creative.


Over the last decades, Awe has been pushed out of daily life by elusive definitions of success that keep people working from waking up until bed and puts kids in practices, tutoring, and other activities to earn their spot in the ever-escalating competition for the best schools that parents hope will lead to the best life for their kids.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When I was 10, my dad took me rabbit hunting. Walking into the woods with him was like walking into the mythic past. He carried his father’s 12-gauge shotgun that bore the scars from my grandfather falling on and breaking the stock when he was 12. We chased up some rabbits and he got two, which we cleaned and cooked for dinner. In one afternoon, I went from kiddie cartoons to full immersion into the cycles of life and death, predator and prey, and father to son.
We went canoeing a few years later, which was new to both of us. To prep for the unexpected, he capsized us in a set of rapids upstream from our camp without telling me beforehand. After coughing up water and gathering our stuff for what seemed like hours, my understanding of the world expanded once again.
Canoes slowly morphed into bigger boats and houseboats. We had some do or die moments with floods, wind, and mechanical problems along the way, but it was the easy silence between us around fires on the beach and listening to the soft but distinct sounds of unknown things moving just beyond the circle of light that introduced me to inner and outer depths I’m still exploring.
We went to church when we were in town, but he only mentioned his faith in God when we were outside in the presence of something bigger that filled him with reverence and grace. I’m sure he didn’t think of these as awe expeditions, but I know what I now call awe is what sustained and enlivened him throughout his life.
My early training in where and how to find awe, and how it sustained and enlivened me, led me to ditch college when it didn’t appear to be leading to a life of awe. In pursuit of awe, I moved to Colorado and eventually to NW Washington where vastness and mystery were a little easier to find and communities of like-minded awe seekers more common. Today I’m living in Switzerland and still in hot pursuit of the joy and wonders of awe.
Seeking and living a life of awe has convinced me that weaving awe into everyday life is one of the strongest and simplest antidotes to the over-stressed, over-achieving, and under-satisfying daily lives many of us live.

Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like a brilliant night sky, a child’s curiosity, witnessing a simple act of kindness, or being part of a large snake of skiers in a marathon. Awe takesus outside of our ‘small self’ and into the larger patterns and wonder of the world, syncing our internal rhythms with the natural world and the people around us.

What IS Awe?

Think about the last time you were in a vast landscape, entranced by a sunset, or enchanted by the miracle of life while holding an infant. Oohs or whoas may have escaped your mouth. Goosebumps may have danced up your spine. These feelings may have been brief, but their impact remains. These feeling weren’t just in your head—something incredible was happening in whole being. Your fight-flight-freeze response was reduced as your “rest and digest” response came online helping you be less anxious, calmer, and more playful. Your oxytocin levels rose, increasing your general sense of well-being and desire to connect. Past regrets and future worries dimmed as awe focused you on the present.

These are just a few of the beneficial effects awe has on our mental, physical and emotional state. I’ll provide more details in my next two posts, but before we get to that, just what the heck is Awe? Dacher Keltner, in his book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, defines awe as the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world. His studies revealed the most common sources of awe are other people and nature, but it can be evoked in other ways including music, art, architecture, design, religious experiences, the supernatural, and what he calls collective effervescence, which can be as diverse as marching in lockstep in an army regiment, playing music with others, dancing, or being part of a sports or political rally.


​Dacher goes on to define the eight wonders of Awe as:

  • Moral Beauty (other’s acts of courage, kindness, strength and overcoming difficult challenges)

  • Collective Effervescence (the buzz and crack of life force found in raves, wedding, funerals, concerts, dance, sports celebrations, political rallies, and rafting trips!)

  • Music

  • Nature

  • Visual design – from art to industrial design and technology to tipis, log buildings, computer code and beyond

  • Religious and spiritual experiences and stories

  • Experiences and stories of life and death such as the birth of your child or the death of a parent

  • Epiphanies – suddenly understanding an essential truth about life

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Bonus Sessions

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Free Bonus Sessions

Pre-Retreat Connection: Why Awe?

Saturdays May 6, 20 and June 6, 8 – 9:30 am PDT.

Three online 90-minute sessions to build connections and community prior to the retreat and to deepen our understanding of how we’re wired for awe and why reclaiming it is so important. Each Saturday we’ll focus on one of the three sections of Dacher Keltner’s new book, Awe, The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. 

May 6: The Science of Awe – how we’re wired for awe and how to activate that wiring.

May 20: Stories of Transformative Awe – what elicits awe and sharing our own stories of awe.

June 6:  Cultural Archives of Awe – appreciating other’s expressions of awe and sharing our own.

Post Retreat Integration: Bringing Back the Magic 

Saturdays July 22nd and September 10th, 8-9:30 am PDT. 

Two 90-minute online follow up sessions for Integration, the deeply important but often over-looked step of taking a moment to reflect on the peak experience you just had and to invite the inquiry of, “what shifts, aha’s, or insights are most asking for my continued attention right now?”.

July 22: We’ll reconnect online as a group, check in with our accountability partners on the awe practices we created at the retreat, and then come back together to share what we’ve learned and to design and develop new practices to seek and find awe as we dive back into summer.

September 10: We’ll reconvene as summer winds down to share stories of individual and collective awe and how we are weaving awe into our everyday life. We’ll wrap by designing how we want to stay connected and to brainstorm a collective project to spread awe beyond our group of summer celebrants. 

Your Awe Guide

Steve Hindman

I've followed awe and my heart since heading west at the end of my freshman year of college to see if the Rocky Mountains were as amazing as in the magazines. That first winter I lived and skied out of an abandoned mining shack above Telluride, Colorado. When the snow melted, I backpacked through the American West, finishing the summer on the coast of Washington state where a fisherman picked me up and asked me to join his crew.

That first year launched me into a life and career off chasing awe and sharing it with others.

My current work as a body-based experiential coach evolved from what I've learned and experienced over more than 40 years leading and instructing clients on skis, bikes, and in kayaks to reach their goals and to find the awe available in their everyday life.

I look forward to finding and sharing joy and awe with you during our days together in Montana.

  - Steve Hindman

  • “What if I’m not in shape or have an injury or am afraid of water?” All challenges and activities are by choice, with permission and encouragement to do whatever supports you in getting the most out of our time together. The only request is full ownership of your choice, as the heart of the retreat is enhancing your awareness and ownership of the experiences you create and what you can learn about yourself and your life from that reflection.

  • Do I have to participate in every activity? No. One way to think of this retreat is as an unconventional and meaningful vacation with rich and interesting experiences and activities to choose from. Throughout the long weekend, you will be welcome to dive deep into all and any of the activities that appeal to you and to not participate in what doesn't appeal.

  • What if I don’t want to be coached? No problem – coaching is available but optional.

  • Can I come with family members or young children – Yes! What could be better than learning to find and create awe and make it a part of your everyday life with those you spend everyday life with?

  • Will WIFI and Cell Service be available? You’ll get the most out of the weekend by turning off your electronic devices upon arrival until departure. We’ll keep our phones on and provide our numbers to share with anyone who may need to contact you over the weekend.

  • How do I get there? Superior, MT is 7 hours east of Seattle and 9 hours north of Salt Lake City via Interstate highways. Multiple airlines fly into Missoula, MT, where you can rent a car for the easy one-hour drive on I-90. You will need to book flights and cars early, as Missoula is a gateway to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and can get quite busy.

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