Last week I told a little white lie. I was late for a phone meeting — and I told the caller that I was running late due to a prior meeting that ran long than expected.  Sounds reasonable and understandable, but it wasn’t exactly, um, true.

The truth was, actually, that two humpback whales jumped out of the water about fifty feet from where I was sitting in my car finishing up a phone call. Seriously. At least a half a dozen humpback and grey whales were feeding just offshore. And before I knew it thirty minutes had gone by as I sat on the rocks watching them in stunned silence.

Humpback whales are large mammals—very large. And I’ve now learned that they often hunt in pairs, and that they are typically accompanied by dolphins and sea lions that enjoy the same seafood buffet. You get the idea. It was a feeding frenzy in Half Moon Bay for about two weeks, and I am sure I was not the only one late for an appointment or two earlier this month.

I was definitely not alone watching the whales—in fact there were times when the bluffs in Miramar were lined nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. People were just standing and looking out over the water, quietly waiting, and occasionally pointing and jumping up and down. The sense of joy and awe ran like a wave down the shoreline.

Last year Sierra Magazine published an article by Jake Abrahamson on just how powerful it is to experience awe in the outdoors.

“Awe can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world… Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else.”

Doctors and mental health professionals are only just beginning to understand the power of the outdoors on the human psyche. But here’s the best news: You don’t need to witness whales jumping out of the water to capture most of these benefits. Numerous studies suggest that time in nature provides a host of physical and mental boosts, including lowering stress levels and increasing empathy, creativity, memory and a sense of community.

Our work lives don’t often leave much time to get outdoors. I get that. But there’s a simple tool you might incorporate into your routine that can help: Walking Meetings. It’s nearly as simple as it sounds—just schedule a meeting or two each week that takes place while you take a walk. You’ll feel great, your colleague will thank you, and you might find you have just a bit more creativity and open-mindedness about whatever problem it is that you are trying to solve. And who knows, in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might just see whales as well.

Special thanks to Bob Rathborne for sharing his amazing photos on Facebook.