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The Science of Awe

The Science of Awe
A few years ago, I ran Utah’s Green River with a group of 13-year-olds. Our first day was a grueling, 26-mile slog through mostly flat water, with a few Class I and II rapids as our prize. I knew the real reward would come when we entered the most majestic part of Desolation Canyon in a couple of days, but they wouldn’t take my word for it. They were slouched in their boats asking, “Why are we doing this?”

That evening a thunderstorm rolled into the river valley, and we spent an hour in our tents. It was one of the most intense and otherworldly storms I’d ever seen. When thunder struck, it felt like my body was inside God’s clap, and the lightning galvanized the entire sky. Eventually the sky cleared. I stepped out of my tent as if exiting a bomb shelter, with a distinct feeling that the world would be different. The kids seemed to emerge from their tents at the exact same instant. The air was heavy and hot, the sky a color I had never imagined—gold from the land to the firmament. Time slowed. The mountains, the people, and the river flowing through it all seemed held together by an intelligent pattern.

The frustration of the day’s paddle was wiped away. I felt benevolent and open toward the kids. Making dinner was easy. The storm had pulled us together.

Looking back, I was puzzled by the experience. What had happened to me…
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