The Powers of Nature – Insights from the Grand Canyon
“I never knew what grand really was until I saw this canyon. It’s a perspective that pulls the busy human engine of desires to a quiet halt. Taking the long view across that vermilion abyss attenuates humanity to quieter rhythms, the spirit of ice ages, and we look, we gasp, and it seems there is a chance we might be small enough not to matter. That the things we want are not the end of the world….”
– from the essay ‘Saying Grace’, in Small Wonder, by Barbara Kingsolver
My family and I just returned from our latest trip to the canyon country of the southwest U.S., and this time we visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which the kids had not been to yet. It’s almost futile to post pictures of the Grand Canyon, as no image can possibly capture the immensity or the play of light. And I really don’t want to get in the habit of filling posts with my (or rather, my husband’s) vacation photos. But I’m going to do it, this one time!
I love the quote above from Barbara Kingsolver because it captures so eloquently the key thing I always rediscover when I spend time out in nature – humility. That we are each really so tiny. Not in a we-don’t-matter kind of way, but in a the-universe-is-grander-than-we-can-conceive kind of way. And it doesn’t take a visit to the Grand Canyon for that. Just watching the bees and birds out in my little LA yard, going about their business with not a thought to me or human endeavors, can restore that sense of perspective.
But the Grand Canyon is unique. In my post on planet earth’s chakras, I listed it as my choice for the earth’s root, or 1st, chakra. I really didn’t mean for that post to be taken absolutely literally, but I do think it’s interesting to observe the different kinds of energies that emanate from places on the earth, and the chakras are a good archetype to use for analyzing this. In some cases, the unique energy of a place is reflected in what we – that is, humanity – build in and around it, and how it impacts us. I’ve lived all over the United States – first as an Air Force brat growing up, and then as a traveling consultant and general nomad as an adult. To me, each section of the U.S. so clearly emanates a different energy, and from the foreign travel I have done, it is clear this is the case everywhere.
Los Angeles, for example, (where I currently live), has a dreamy, almost astral quality to it, that corresponds exactly in my mind to it’s global role as a factory of illusion, in the form of the trillions of dollars worth of television, music and films that are broadcast and exported from here around the world. When I first moved here from New York City, it was quite a shock to my system – I had a hard time staying grounded. New York is solid – Manhattan is literally an island of rock – and sharp, and dense. The Pacific and Atlantic oceans are different from each other in a similar way.
The Grand Canyon is raw, and primal, and pure power. In earthly terms it is ancient beyond our human comprehension. The layers are laid bare for us to view, making it one of the most fascinating places on the planet for archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists. Each line of rock, each change of color, represents millions of years, with some rock layers estimated to be 2 billion years old. The history of the world is written there.
All of this ties in well with the themes normally associated with our own root chakras, in our bodies. It’s our raw connection to the earth, our body, our physical survival. It’s often associated with the ‘flight or fight’ response, and with the raw open potential of our kundalini, or life force, which we may or may not choose to fully harness. It’s also associated with our own familial roots – our ancestry, our culture, our blood family.
This particular trip I also witnessed the incredible devastation that a huge fire two years ago had wrought in the forests at the top of the canyon. We drove past miles and miles of charred land, stumps and tree trunks, but then came upon areas where white-barked baby aspens were already thriving, able to get the sun and water they needed for the first time, without competing for it with the larger, more established pines. A new landscape was being created from the destruction. It reminded me of the metaphor of Shakti and Shiva that is often used to describe the rising of the kundalini life force during a spiritual awakening. Shakti, the creator, is coiled in the root chakra, waiting to be unleashed. As it rises up through the chakras, different doorways and energies are opened and released in our being, until Shakti joins Shiva, the destroyer, in the crown chakra, at the top of our head, representing union, and enlightenment.
Apart from the theoretics of it though, what’s interesting to me is how specific places shift my own awareness, and how my body and psychic being intuitively respond to them. Some places are naturally healing and balancing, others are places of seeing, or doorways into other dimensions, still others are places of empowerment. The Grand Canyon, energetically, is such a jolt of raw energy it stops you in your tracks. Then there is a burst of vigor, of pure life force, that seems to infuse almost everyone.
I think it’s most interesting to watch young children in locations like this – they are like energy barometers, or canaries in a mine. Their own moods and states of awareness shift instantly in response to a place. They don’t have the kinds of walls or shields that we have as adults, which has its pros and cons. I have visited places that were stunning visually, but that instantly made my kids edgy or whiny. Other times we’ve been in seemingly unremarkable places, but they were infused with a lightness of being, a joy, an instant shift in mood. Alone I would notice these energetic shifts, but my kids often reflect them much earlier than I can tap into.
Many power places are hard to stay in for too long though, and the Grand Canyon is one of them. After that blast of raw power, and the liberation and invigoration that follows, I think many people start to become afraid. In watching the tourists around me, and my own family and awareness, I saw this desire for familiar comforts start to creep back in. I have often experienced and witnessed this on desert retreats also. Places like this represent the void, our un-self, and at a certain point the ego becomes fearful, and starts to crave the structure and routine that give it meaning and a sense of control. I think the art of allowing a trip like this to transform from a tourist visit to an empowerment is working through that feeling, allowing ourselves to feel like a tiny spec, embracing our cosmic insignificance, for just awhile, at least.
In that old earth’s chakras post I asked you to share your own favorite power places, and/or how they impact you. I’d like to hear of more, and from newer readers. Please share!