Environmental Spirituality

In this month’s Conde Nast Traveler, there’s a wonderful article about environmental protection in the Four Corners region.

“This Land Is Your Land” highlights the drive to protect land that stretches through Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado dating back to 1936. The original vision for this land was to turn almost 7000 square miles south of I-70 into a national park. The descriptions of the landscape and the accompanying photos are awe inspiring, which is the point Terry Tempest Williams wants to make–this unique region of the world has a spiritual power.

It’s not just the natural beauty of the region that’s important, but also the lack of human interaction. The emptiness of the landscape can be just as wonderful, and Williams poetically states this.

In the end, it may be solitude that the future will thank us for—the kind of solitude our ancestors knew; solitude that inspired in their imaginations the creative acts which made our survival as a species possible. The secret revealed to me in solitude is this: What I thought was an intangible border between the inner and outer wilderness is actually attention. When I am walking in wilderness I am mindful of a pulse, aware that I am part of the immense expanse before me. Attention is the conduit between my wild heart and every other wild heart, hidden and exposed, beating together in the sublimity of the desert.

An inspiring view at Uluwatu, Bali
An inspiring view at Uluwatu, Bali

I haven’t visited this particular part of the American Southwest since I was sixteen–my parents took me through most of New Mexico and part of Arizona and southern Colorado. I visited beautiful natural landmarks like Canyon DeChelley and Garden of the Gods. My mother and I asked Dad to stop the car along the desolate roads so we could take pictures of the landscape.

While living in Colorado for grad school, I didn’t take many trips south of I-70. During the second year when my parents visited, we occasionally took trips south of Boulder and Denver. I tended to take trips on my own into the mountains to the north and west. The views in all of those areas were beautiful–I was never disappointed, even when the weather didn’t cooperate.

But Colorado and the rest of the Southwest weren’t the only places I found awe-inspiring natural beauty. I’ve had similar spiritual encounters with nature in Alaska, Canadian Yukon, parts of China, and Bali. Each destination provided a different element of nature, but all elicited the same emotional result.

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