Archive for awe

Moved by Mountains

Several months ago I received review copies of Tom Reed's two exquisite photography & text books, the hardback Granite Avatars of Patagonia (2009) and recently released paperback Moved by a Mountain: Inspiration from an Alpine View in Alaska (2013).

The idea was to review them for Gatherings, the online Ecopsychology journal I co-founded and have edited for most of the last decade.

Due to travel, work deadlines, and the ordinary extraordinary catastrophes and celebrations of everyday life, it's taken me all this time to finish the reviews. But I have to say that the books are both so stunning that I only hope the reviews do enough justice to their profound beauty that there will be a rush on orders when everyone wants their own copy for Christmas (and the author will forgive my tardy delivery). 
Anyway, I thought I'd include some of the images and links to my reviews here in the Beauty Dialogues as well, since Reed's search for the deeper meaning and purpose of beauty resonates so deeply with me and is what this blog is all about.

Speaking of which, here's Tom Reed at TedX in Homer Alaska, speaking on "Natural Beauty and Aesthetic Arrest".

Read my full reviews (including some wonderful quotes) of these fabulous inspiring books here (or just cut to the chase and buy your copies now – I guarantee you won't be disappointed):

Moved by a Mountain: Inspiration from an Alpine View in Alaska
My Review
Buy Now

The Granite Avatars of Patagonia
My Review
Buy Now


I first learned about Stendhalism when I was in Florence many years ago – in case you’ve never come across the term, it’s a diagnosable psychological syndrome where people pass out, or faint, while experiencing an excess of awe in the face of beauty.


It was named for the French poet Stendhal because purportedly he was so dazed he could barely walk while admiring the beauty of Santa Croce (apparently he wrote eloquently on the subject in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio).

Much of our language around beauty references this beguiling aspect of her nature…  she’s ‘dazzling’, ‘stunning’; we’re ‘mesmerized’, ‘astounded’, ‘dazed’ and ‘amazed’ when we look into the open center of her mystery… 

Sometimes I think this sense of awe, or internal ‘opening’ as I experience it, is close to the very essence of beauty, of what makes something beautiful. But what is it that triggers a blow-out of the senses and an inability to contain that much pleasure, that much beauty?

In a recent conversation I learned about a variation of Stendhalism in Jerusalem – appropriately called the Jerusalem syndrome – where the body’s ‘overwhelm’ response is in reaction to the sense of awe in the presence of spiritual or religious significance.  Apparently the police are fully aware of the syndrome and know how to deal with the many cases a day they encounter from the thousands of Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims who come to this destination, holy to all.

When Rob Brezsny, author of the fascinating Pronoia, reflects on Stendhalism he suggests "Proceed
cautiously as you expose yourself to the splendor that has been
invisible or unavailable to you all these years."

What do you think of all this? What if anything brings you to that place of almost unbearable awe? And how do you deal with it?

Space Awe


Hubble Awe

These Hubble photos blow my little mind! This one was taken by the Spitzer space telescope…

Beauty as Wound/Beauty as Healer

What is the wound that Beauty heals?”

At the end of the Beauty Dialogues teleconversation the other night we set the question for the next (and last of this series) session. This time it was a double-sided queory that emerged as we listened for it…

On beauty as both wound and healer; "What is that sadness or nostalgia
we sometimes feel when contemplating Beauty?", "What is it about Beauty
that is able to heal that wound?", or "What is wounded in ourselves and
our cultures that needs the healing power of Beauty?", or, even more
simply, "What is the wound that Beauty heals?".

I held those questions in my awareness as I went out for a walk afterwards with an old friend of mine (this friend is a man who has been deeply wounded recently, having just emerged from a 6 year odyssey in the Australian prison system).

As we walked I saw his pace slow and his breathing deepen again and again as his heart was touched by Beauty – a profusion of rose blooms in a cottage garden (he said he'd seen it earlier and knew he wanted to share it with a woman, as a gift), and then when, climbing to the top of a hill, we saw the Marin headlands way across the bay and the majesty of Mount Tamalpais disappearing into blue fog.

We were talking about the juxtaposition of Truth and Beauty. I started thinking about the two of them being very powerful together. How Truth has to do with the head, and how its clarity can heal the wounds of the intellect, while Beauty is of the heart and has the capacity to heal us emotionally.

Beauty is that part of the feminine principle that connects us to one another… the homebuilder who draws a circle around us and our environment and fills it with comfort and beauty, the caregiver that loves us and wants to bring us pleasure and delight. When we are in her presence we open up, our chest expands in a sense of appreciation or even awe.

When we experience something of profound Beauty in the presence of others there is often an incredible sense of unity that characterizes that shared collective moment. It's almost that in the collective apprehension of beauty is a semi-conscious recognition that we are each, in our essence, beings capable of awe and wonder. And to have that capacity as a fundamental core trait is so wonderful that sometimes its blessing helps us regain faith in ourselves. Just for that moment it makes us whole, perhaps even heals the part of us that feels separate and alienated, or helpless in the face of despair…

This is obviously an ongoing queory, and we'll be talking about it more in the next online Beauty Dialogue, but I'd be curious about your response to these early musings … any thoughts to share on this idea of Beauty as wound or healer?