Perspectives on awe walking: Susan Johnson

Feb. 6, 2024

To Susan Johnson, awe is a feeling close to love and thankfulness.

“There's a lot of stuff that drags you down or makes you afraid. We human beings, we don’t feel good [and] we need a respite from all the noise of the world,” Johnson said. “For me, that is awe.”

A place she has found this emotion is during the awe walks hosted by the Innovations in Healthy Aging’s Creative Encounters in Awe Walking workshops. Johnson has attended the events since October 2022 and has been to almost every one since then. In one of the first awe walks she attended, Johnson was told to look for little things, and the concept stuck with her. It made her appreciate the beauty of life around her as well as in her own life.

“The fact that we are alive now, it's pretty awesome. But I've spent most of my life just taking it for granted,” she said. 

One of her favorite events was “Backyard Awe” at Mission Garden last fall. The Creative Encounters in Awe Walking events are designed with varying skill levels in mind, and participants are encouraged to explore their own creativity, rather than create a piece of perfect art. As part of the event, Johnson was instructed to paint a small wooden house built for a mason bee. It seemed like a simple task at first. However, the activity proved to be daunting.

“When I started to [paint], I looked to the [birdhouse of the] woman to my right, and it was so much nicer." Johnson felt discouraged. "I can’t do this. I’m not ready,” she thought. 

As a former lawyer who worked in office jobs most of her life, Johnson, 76, didn’t have much experience in art. 

“I’m used to analyzing things, not creating things with papers and scissors and pretty things,” she said. 

Still, Johnson was determined to see the workshop through. “Just look down and do your own thing,” she encouraged herself. As Johnson began to work on the bee house, she unlocked her previously undiscovered creative side as she painted in vibrant colors of purple, green, yellow and red. The workshop gave Johnson an opportunity to engage in intentional play and tap into childlike wonder to look at awe from a new perspective.

When Johnson got home, she hung her creation up in her yard where she could easily see it from her window.

“When my attention wanders and I look out ... it makes me smile.”

Johnson has found value in the awe walking workshops and plans to continue attending as many events as she can. She recommends this program for those looking for something different in their day-to-day lives. Johnson also has advice for new participants: be open and willing to learn. 

“[For] somebody that's looking at this, especially an older person or a middle-aged person just wanting to inject a little bit of fun … an openness to something new can enhance their living.”

Future events
For information on upcoming Innovations in Healthy Aging events, visit our Aging and the Arts events page or follow us on Instagram or Facebook. To learn more about awe, visit The Awe Collective website.