Of Earth’s Portals and Gateways…
“Here was a place where the veil lying between the worlds was thin…she need only step through the mists here, and be in Avalon.” – Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer-Bradley
“This is the place that shamans have known of for millenia. They pass through the portals…moving between the worlds…This is the entire universe in which you’re destined to dissolve.” – Terrence Mckenna
“Walking is doing wonders for body and soul. I’m completely focused on the present moment, for that is where all signs, parallel worlds and miracles are to be found. Time really doesn’t exist.” – The Aleph, Paul Coelho
I thought this would be an easy post to write as the canyon country of the U.S. southwest is my spiritual home – the place that resonates most deeply with my being. But in fact as I sat down I felt at a rare loss for words, and went in search of quotes from other (better) writers to help. I’m not really sure I can add anything to the quotes and pictures above, but I will try, as I do believe in the power of words to express the inexpressible (a koan for you!)
I’ve written about Nature Mysticism before – the ways mystics from all different spiritual traditions have related to nature, and the peace, beauty, and balance that time in nature brings out in us. I’ve also written about Planet Earth’s Chakras – a post I wrote just for fun and never imagined would become so popular. I also recently came across an interesting article about a research project on the healing powers of nature, which (among other things) confirmed that even just looking at pictures of nature can benefit your health. So even if the words in this post do nothing for you, hopefully the pictures will!
What I really want to talk about today is the magical gateways nature offers us – the places where the ‘veils between the worlds’ are thin, and we can slip through. This is the shaman’s art; and yes I know the word ‘shaman’ has been co-opted and romanticized and perhaps abused, but for the purposes of this post, I hope you will allow me to use it, as I do so with the greatest respect.
Although I use the word shaman, this kind of traveling, or shifting, is really talked about by mystics of every spiritual tradition – it’s not owned by any one. I view it as a byproduct of our natural fluidity – the fluidity of human awareness. Our awareness is really a spectrum, and we are shifting along this spectrum all the time – from moment to moment we are living in different worlds. Walking through the mists or veils at earth’s spiritual portals is really just an extension of this fluidity.
Some people ‘see’ these worlds in pictures, but that’s not the only way to experience them. They are a vibration, a feeling, a space or dimension that opens up – the way they will be experienced or processed by the ‘brain’ is different for each individual. Part of the reason I like chakra meditation in particular is because it helps develop our subtle awareness for just such experiences – it trains us to feel these shifts and distinguish them. Our chakras are themselves each doorways, and different places in nature resonate with each one – some places take us through the ‘heart’ doorway of love, others through the ‘navel’ doorway of power, still others launch ‘vision quests’ of the third eye.
The shaman’s path has gone a bit out of style in many spiritual circles today. Spirituality, at least as its culturally expressed, goes through phases and fads like everything else. In the 60s and 70s, talk of traveling and shifting in this way was very in (perhaps I missed my moment!) Of course, this was fueled partly by the interest in psychedelic drugs, but those were never necessary. The fluidity of our awareness is natural and doesn’t require anything to create it, although it sometimes does need awakening, and definitely needs grounding and training to sustain (grounding was what was missing in some of the spiritual talk of the psychedelic era.)
Nowadays, discussion is more about mindfulness, being in the moment, being present, and inquiring. I’m all for that. Now more than ever, we are conditioned to live outside the moment – in the past, in the future, on the weekend, on vacation, when we get that new house, or car, or raise…And meditation of any type starts with mindfulness. But being in the moment – present awareness – offers us more than a pronounced appreciation of the here and now. As Coelho says in the quote above, in a moment, time ceases to exist. A moment is a doorway into eternity. A moment is a doorway into every world, every potential, and the light of Source itself. There are no limits on a moment, because our mind – and the order and perceptual framework it normally provides for us – stops.
If we are fully in the moment, if we are stopped, when we come upon a place in nature that functions as a portal, we can travel through. Otherwise, we might walk right by it. I watch thousands of people do this daily in my favorite National Park (Zion, which I visit several times a year.) There is no better proof that we each live in different worlds even when we are in the same physical place than taking a walk through a place like Zion. For some, it is simply a photo op – a visual ‘place’. Others are impacted by the energy, but not sure what to do with it – perhaps they get giddy, or perhaps they go the other way, feeling anxious – threatened by their relative smallness. Still others feel or see nothing at all – they are locked in a human drama of some sort that prevents than from connecting, like a family squabble, or lover’s quarrel. And then some are stopped in their tracks, sensing or seeing the dimensions of light that are opening and closing where they stand.
Although these portals exist all around the world, and each of us resonate with different ones, for me it is the southwest desert and canyon country – which some find harsh and barren – where I best stop. In the most remote places, there’s no human reference point – no sign of culture, or even of sentient life (although of course a careful examination reveals all sorts of resourceful and resilient life…) There is really no sense of humanity at all. The base of these canyons and mountains are 250 million years old, and we humans are barely a blip in their history. We are inconsequential. Their existence feels independent of us, and even our worries about global warming, the environment, and the rest seem irrelevant. It is our own survival that is threatened, not that of these places. These places know that, and convey that, and strip away any semblance of self-importance.
Many believe the spiritual gateways are closing. This is in fact the whole premise of Mists of Avalon (the first quote above) – that the choices humans make en masse can close or open these portals, and that we have in fact been closing them for some time. And some feel that if they do close, a fundamental human opportunity will have been lost, perhaps forever. But pondering this is a bit like pondering the koan ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?’ If we forget how to access these portals, do they cease to exist?
One could ask the same thing about enlightenment. If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you know that I use that word outside of any particular spiritual tradition – I don’t think it’s owned by Eastern traditions, or that there is only one way to find it. I view enlightenment as a fundamental human opportunity, that individuals from many different backgrounds and cultures throughout the ages have sought, and some discovered. Traditionally we are not really supposed to talk about enlightenment, because to talk about it is to diminish it, to define it, to turn it into a concept or projection – a ‘thing’ in the mind. And yet, if we don’t talk about it, will it disappear? Will the doorways to it close? As interest in spirituality (as distinguished from religion) grows, are we watering it down too much, to the point where we are letting the doorways to enlightenment close? Are we so focused on self-improvement, and ‘manifesting our dreams’, and social change, that we are walking right by the veils?
I don’t know the answer to that, but when I visit earth’s spiritual portals, I am reassured, and struck by how much more this planet gives us than physical sustenance. It is a beautiful, magical place, and opens us to the beautiful, magical planes in ourselves.
What are some of your favorite places? What do they show you and where do they take you? Please share! (And speaking of magical places, don’t forget to check out the Bali Essence website if you haven’t done so already…)