Robert Augustus Masters

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Speechless Shivers of Nonconceptual Recognition: Awe

  • June 14, 2015
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Mammatus cloud  Quebec


Amazement is wonder laced with just enough surprise to keep it energetically vital.


Bring in a bigger dose of surprise, and the result is astonishment. Ocular and mandibular expansion now holds steady a little longer.


Rev this up a bit, parachuting down into the far reaches of jaw-droppingness, and we start shifting from astonishing to astounding.


And beyond this is awe.


Now, what began as astonishment has not necessarily reached a greater level of excitation, but rather has morphed into an ever-fresh, ever-defamiliarized sense of hypervivid perception and nonconceptual knowing.


Awe is more than wonder, for it includes not only the rapt attention and radical openness which characterize wonder, but also veneration, along with a sometimes fearful reverence that can at times border on dread.


In awe, terror and ecstasy are separated by the very thinnest of margins. The naked realization of the Real can be not only joyful, but sometimes also terrifying. (And don’t forget that psychospiritual terror can itself be awe-inspiring.) Arms may be raised in weeping bliss, but at other times our entire frame of being may be shaking in less-than-pleasant ways.


Awe is infused with love, but it is not nice love, an everyday cozily familiar love, but rather a love of immeasurable force, a love of absolute presence, a love of holy brilliance and fieriness, the flames of which both burn and illuminate. Such love is the heart of awe.


The kind of freedom intuited through immersion in awe is unspeakably significant, revealing dimensions beyond imagining and a knowingness beyond translation, but it is under no obligation whatsoever to always manifest in ways that comfort and console us.


Nevertheless, awe is ultimately a profoundly Life-affirming (and Mystery-affirming) state, shaped by its remarkable intimacy with the Sacred.


Awe reconnects us, through a numinously impactful emotional resonance, to the core and fundamental Mystery of Life. It plugs us in, with an authority at once visceral and transcendent, to What-Really-Matters. It not only provides a straight-ahead bridge to the Divine, but also makes that bridge infinitely short.


But all this is not necessarily as great as it sounds, because awe as a state can be accessed at any stage of development.


For example, if rabid fundamentalists experience awe, they will in all likelihood interpret it through the lens of their developmental level, using it to reinforce and legitimize the fundamentalism in which they are so rigidly embedded. But when a mature person, one capable of intimacy with multiple perspectives, experiences awe, it is interpreted very differently. Same awe, different filters, different results.


Strip awe of whatever conditioning or cultural shoulds may clothe it, and all that’s left is a speechless shiver of primal recognition, a raw, extremely compelling intimacy with irreducible Mystery. Awe is the everwild Poetry of Realization, too vast and too real for translation.


Awe is all the proof we need for the really big questions. Silence may be the answer, but awe is the felt sense of not needing an answer, of recognizing that any answer really only deepens the Mystery.


Awe is the bliss of knowing right to our marrow that we are in the presence of undressed Reality. So let us embrace awe, let us allow it to look through our eyes, let us permit it to breathe us, even as we journey to its source.


I am in awe that we can experience awe. I am in awe that we are hardwired for awe. I am in awe to be here. This is where revelation supplants explanation. This is where all metaphors bow to their preconceptual roots. This is where the first of us searched the sky and the last of us is saying goodbye.


My words, whatever lies within and between them, are but vanishing traces in endless sky, wingprints gone to nothing, leaving only clearings in consciousness. How simultaneously familiar and alien this dance of incarnation and embodiment is, how unutterably magnificent, how bizarre and beautiful, how generously imbued with the elixir of endless realization.