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Experiences of Awe

Donna DiCello

May 2024

On April 8, 2024, parts of the United States had an opportunity to view a total eclipse, the first since 2017, with the next one not occurring until 2044. I, too, was bitten by eclipse fever, and though Connecticut would only enjoy a partial viewing, I ordered my glasses and got ready to engage with this rare and extraordinary phenomenon. It did not disappoint; as I often experience when I engage with the natural landscape – whether gazing at the stars on an inky night, or hearing the crash of ocean waves across craggy rocks, or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon – a certain feeling washes over me, one that I can only describe as awe.

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Image: Total solar eclipse by bdabney from Pixabay

The natural world provides us with ample opportunity to have experiences of awe. My favorite definition of awe comes from the Oxford Dictionary, which defines awe as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”.  That is exactly what the eclipse engendered in me as I watched the moon cross the sun’s path, a journey over which humans have no control and exert no ability to change. With such experiences, I come to know my place in the ecosystem, and realize that this place is small, and I am only one part of many.


Climate change is causing a certain level of disruption regarding these experiences, as well as in our own emotional states. As the climate reacts to the burning of fossil fuels and widespread oil drilling and gas fracking, we may find the environments that we once frequented for solace and renewal might be irrevocably changed; as an example, I think of people in Australia, Canada, Africa, and the western United States who have seen their landscape scorched by forest fires, and who can no longer work the land for their livelihoods, nor go to the forest for a cooling respite. Recent research has shown that engaging with the natural world is good for our psychological well-being (Bratman, Anderson, Berman, et al., 2019); as a retired clinical psychologist, that is of great concern and interest to me. When we disconnect with nature, and fail to see ourselves as part of this larger ecosystem, we also fail to see the importance of keeping our Earth vibrant and alive; not only that, but we are opening the possibility that the landscapes we once loved will disappear, closing the door for future generations to also enjoy nature and be healed by it.     


So let yourself be moved with awe on this beautiful Earth – whether it is in your garden, on a hike in the woods, swimming in the ocean, or watching baby birds fledge. When you do so, notice how your mood may brighten, and you feel more compassion, and for a moment you are protected from all the harms this world can offer. Connect with others as you do so, just as many did across North America with the recent eclipse, coming together to watch this one beautiful thing.


Donna DiCello, Psy.D. is a Sierra Club member and member of Climate Psychology Alliance-North America, Advocacy & Outreach Committee and CT Regional Subcommittee.




     Bratman, G.N., Anderson, C.B., Berman, M.G., Cochran, B., De Vries, S., Flanders, J., Folke, C., Frumkin, H., Gross, J.J., Hartig, T., Kahn, P.H., Kuo, M., Lawler,J.J.,  Levin, P.S., Lindhal, T. Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Mitchell, R., Ouyang, Z., Roe, J., Scarlett, L., Smith, J.R., Van Den Bosch, M., , Wheeler, B.W., White, M.P., Zheng, H., & Daily, G.C. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, 5(7), pp. 1-14, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903.

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