Awakening to Awe

Personal Stories of Profound Transformation

To be published by Jason Aronson, July, 2009
Blurbs and Summaries
Kirk J. Schneider, Ph.D.

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Advance praise for the book:

“Awakening to Awe” is an intelligent and inspiring call to revive a sense of mystery. Kirk Schneider draws on the very best of psychological and spiritual thinkers and in plain language shows ways to re-invent this society spiritually. His ideas and style are perfectly suited to this all-important theme.”

Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and Writing in the Sand

“A wonder/full book; highly original. Kirk Schneider shows us, in the experience of awe, the bridge that connects philosophy, psychology and spiritual practice. At one and the same time, he provides us a key to a new kind of therapy and points us back to the classical notion that philosophy and authentic religion begins in wonder.”

Sam Keen. Author of Apology for Wonder and Fire in the Belly

“An inspiring and refreshing new concept through which to understand and appreciate life’s mysteries and to unleash aliveness; Dr. Schneider’s guide to “awakening to awe” offers meaningful psychological theory and sensible real-life examples of applying an “awe” perspective to aging, recovery from drug abuse and all aspects of everyday life. Readers will truly enjoy and be uplifted by the journey with Schneider as they embrace this new positive lens and make their own list of awesome experiences–-from art, music, sport, nature, relationships – to uncovering humor, surprise, emotion, and vastness of appreciation in life.”

Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, UN representative, author of “The Complete Idiots Guide to A Healthy Relationship” and adjunct faculty of Columbia University Teachers College.

“A call from a master existentialist for the reinstatement of awe in daily living. We had it at birth; it will be with us at the hour of our death, if we could just open ourselves to it. Meanwhile, he reminds us, life still remains at once the great problem and the great mystery.”

Eugene Taylor, Ph.D., William James scholar, author of Shadow Culture


Awakening to Awe is a self-help meditation on an alternative and underground spiritual movement. This is a movement comprised of people who refuse the “quick-fix” model for healing, whether that model entails popping pills, indulging in material comforts, or adhering to doctrinal dogmas. By contrast, the movement about which I speak is composed of people who have developed the capacity to experience the humility and wonder, or in short, awe, of life deeply lived.

In particular, this book highlights the stories of people who through the cultivation of awe have transformed their lives. (In this sense, it is akin to Care of the Soul or The Power of Now but with an emphasis on people’s “living” stories). For example, readers will discover how awe transformed the life of an ex-gang member into a beloved and productive gang mediator; an ex drug addict into a communally conscious healer; and a sufferer of stage three cancer into a contemplative and spiritual seeker. The book will also inform readers about the challenges and joys of awe-based child-raising, education, humor, political activism, and aging. Drawing on the philosophy of my earlier work, the acclaimed Rediscovery of Awe, Awakening to Awe tells the down-to-earth stories of a quiet yet emerging revolution in the transformation of lives.

Definition of awe and how people attain it?

Awe is the sense of amazement (humility and wonder) before the mystery of life. Ultimately, we know not from whence we came nor whither we are headed, and this evokes awe. Awe is not just a cheap thrill, or a stunned helplessness; it is an appreciation of the whole of life—the fragile as well as the exalting. Awe inspires us to see through the pettiness of life, and connects us to the grand picture, the “great adventure;” and this adventure has remarkable potential to lift us, to heal us, and to give our lives meaning—especially in our “awe-starved” world.

How do we attain a sense of awe? The answer is through presence to life in its fullness. Anything that evokes (or points to) the vastness and mystery of existence can inspire us to experience awe. This includes a great loss but also a great achievement; a great trauma but also a great love; it can also include a baby, a sunset, a work of art, or a rainstorm—anything that shakes us out of the everyday and reminds us of the bigger picture of life and creation.

Key Points

The subject of Awakening to Awe—“awe-based awakening” (or “healing”), is a novel yet time-honored form of spirituality. It relies on neither religion nor formulas; pills nor wealth. Awe-based awakening is fundamentally an attitude, natural and free to all.
Yet awe-based awakening is not simply an inheritance; it must be realized and cultivated.

Below is a sampling of the core conditions—both favorable and unfavorable—to the cultivation of awe-based awakening. This sampling—richly elaborated on by the testimonies and commentaries in the book—can be used by readers as a “take-home” guide:

I. Conditions that favor Awe-based awakening (or the humility and wonder—amazement–of living):

  • basic capacity to subsist
  • Time
  • A capacity to slow down
  • A capacity to savor the moment
  • A focus on what one loves
  • A capacity to see the big picture
  • An openness to the mystery of life and being
  • An appreciation for the fact of life
  • An appreciation of pain as a sometime teacher
  • An appreciation of balance (e.g., between one’s fragility and resiliency)
  • Contemplative time alone
  • Contemplative time in natural or non-distracting settings
  • Contemplative time with close friends or companions
  • In-depth therapy or meditation
  • An ability to stay present to and accept the evolving nature of conflict—e.g., to know that “this too shall pass”
  • An ability to stay present to and accept the evolving nature of life
  • An ability to give oneself over—discerningly–to the ultimately unknowable
  • An ability to trust in the ultimately unknowable

II. Conditions unfavorable to Awe-based awakening (or the humility and wonder—amazement–of living):

  • Poverty and deprivation
  • Haste
  • Rigidity
  • Dogma
  • Gluttony
  • Anarchy
  • Self-inflation
  • Self-deflation
  • The preoccupation with money
  • The preoccupation with status
  • The preoccupation with consumerism
  • A steady diet of junk food, pills, or alcohol
  • A steady diet of mind-numbing TV
  • An enthrallment with mechanization
  • An enthrallment with simple answers
  • A compulsion to think positively
  • A compulsion to think negatively
  • Fixation
  • Coercion
  • Reductionism
  • Polarization

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