Becoming Awed, Part 2

Experience Life Magazine Interview on Awe

Posted Dec 14, 2016

This is an interview between me and Heidi Wachter of Experience Life.

EL | What, if anything, interferes with our sense of awe or experiencing awe? Being over-busy, glued to technology, and lack of time in nature?

KS | The polarized mind or “fixation on one point of view to the utter exclusion of competing points of view” interferes with cultivating awe. The polarized mind is not confined to what we typically call mental disorders or to certain disenfranchised people. It’s a worldwide, cross-cultural, and cross-historical scourge that has caused great human destructiveness. The polarized mind is basically predicated on the fear or panic that one is insignificant, helpless, and ultimately invisible as a being, and is usually the result of being brutalized by others who have felt the same way, and on and on the cycle of war and hatred goes. There have only been a few bright lights in history who have avoided this fate, and they are usually marginalized in their societies, more spiritual or mystical than dogmatically religious or ideological, and more holistic (present, mindful) in their approach to themselves and others.

EL| Does attempting to capture a wondrous experience by photographing or Tweeting about it interfere with the wonder of it?

KS| Most anything that aspires to the quick fix and absolute answer interferes with awe cultivation. On the other hand, almost anything that’s approached with maximal presence or whole-body awareness tends to be more conducive to awe.

Technology certainly presents a new danger of polarization because as long as the machine is the mediator of human awareness and much of living, we will become more like machines, and our sense of dignity, personal agency, and capacity for intimacy are likely to wither. On the other hand, I do believe machines can be used for awe-based purposes, and this is one of our great challenges as we move into a radically mechanized era.

EL | How do we create or tap into an awe-based consciousness, and how can we cultivate more awe in our everyday lives?

KS | This is where the “rubber hits the road.” I go into this in-depth in my books, but suffice it to say that it often takes a life-shaking awareness — sometimes trauma — to help us break through the routine fabric of living and to experience a much larger sense of being alive. Basically it involves connection with the bigger picture of living, and a sense of participation in that big picture as well as humility about how much it exceeds our grasp. Certainly, depth psychotherapy, meditation, and profound mentorship can inspire an awe-based consciousness.

First and foremost, a life deeply lived usually derives from caretakers, whether a parent or mentor who is able to model life that is relatively internally free — to discover, create, feel depths as well as heights of life, and identify with the “more” of who one is. This means a mentor who is in touch with the bigger picture of life and who experiences the thrill as well as anxiety of participating in something much greater than oneself that can continually put narrow and petty identifications in perspective and find joy in evolving, deepening.

Experiencing the depths of awe also requires participating in activities that allow the acknowledgment of the passing nature of time and life and therefore the preciousness of time and life. It takes a capacity for wonder and surprise, acknowledgment that each moment is a part of a vast context of possibility and discovery, appreciation for the subtleties and intricacies of life as experienced by fuller presence, pausing to reflect or fully savor the many shades and flavors of the moment.

It also takes an attunement to one’s emotions and body sensations and the capacity for cultivating solitude and befriending one’s self — which means learning to spend some quality time alone or just being.

Heidi Wachter is a staff writer for Experience Life.

For more info see:


Schneider, K. (2009).  Awakening to Awe: Personal Stories of Profound Transformation. Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson.

Schneider, K. (2013).  The Polarized Mind: Why It's Killing Us and What We Can Do About It.  Colorado Springs, CO: University Professors Press.