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A Toolbox for locating Power Places

There is an honest experience of spiritual space.  We all understand this somewhere deep in our psyches.  It comes out of a time when there were fewer of our species on this earth and we banded together for safety.  A time when we could walk for days without seeing a person; when our eye scanned a horizon without limit.  Space on our planet is becoming at a premium.  Without being told this, we can feel it.  Crowd or no crowd, we feel the limit pressing against us.  We are aware of this, regardless of how much solitude we enjoy at any moment.  And that awareness is troubling—the too many rats in the cage syndrome.  Our DNA is not fit for these kinds of crowds.  We are adapted for limitlessness, expansiveness, a clarity and freshness of consciousness.  All else becomes depressive, constrictive, crazy-making.  Depression is widespread and no amount of pills can fix the kind that hungers for open spaces.  This type of depression has deeper roots, like a tree caught in a can, its’ crown gnarled, unable to grow and expand.  This crush of human consciousness might not be obvious until you’ve actually been in an environment not only without crowds, but without much of today’s technologies.  Once you’ve tasted the difference, you can never fully go back.  You’ve drunk the punch.

Limitless expanse hides in our DNA

I fear there are less and less places on the earth where one can experience this feeling, so natural yet now so foreign to us.  Our world today is crowded even in places where its’ not.  Wires, cell towers, EM pollution, air pollution, water pollution, on and on.  I first fell in love with Wyoming, in the tiny town of Pinedale.  Long ago I ‘drunk the punch’ there.  Pinedale today, population 1,400, has air quality in the winter  worse than Los Angeles due to ozone from the gas fields.  Los Angeles!  Where there are almost 10 million people!

Pinedale anticline gas field in winter

Power in sacred spaces is diminished by man-made monstrosities like wires, roads, buildings, oil fields and other land scars.  Some places must just remain sacred.  With large amounts of people on this earth, we require even larger amounts of sacred spaces, not less, to hold the quiet so necessary for our spiritual peace of mind.

Living in the Bay Area for a few weeks, I became acutely aware of our lack of psychic space.  Yes, there are refuges here and there—parks, open space, even National Forests & Parks—but there is no ‘Wildness’ capable of absorbing our subjectivity, helping to ‘jumpstart’ us into this present moment.  With so many people using the limited amounts of open land, there must be many more rules. Trails are neatly constructed, lots of signage, no dogs, fees for parking, and on and on.  I don’t resent this.  In an overcrowded world with more and more people seeking refuge, that is the price we pay.

Private golf course abutts a Widerness area in Sedona

But are these controlled parks and lands the refuges we truly seek?  Or are they a compromise, a washed down version of something we once knew and now must settle for?  Can places of Power that were once brimming over, full of energy, yet now diluted by human interference, still transmit the same potency they contained hundreds, if not thousands of years ago?  Is it still possible to go out as a vision seeker, like Jesus, Gautama or Plenty Coups, and have the  Power of Place transform and enlighten us?  I see this as an important question to ponder.

Milarepa in his cave for 20 years

Every great spiritual leader in all traditions–and traditionally any person who had the inclination—went seeking their vision, their connection, a transmission of wisdom or insight through a communion experience in nature.  They went alone.  Where ever the power was present in their unique geography, there they went.  Some to mountains, other to deserts.  Some, like the Buddha, found a quiet and large tree to sit under.  Others, like the Tibetan Yogi Milarepa, sought a cave and sat there for twenty years.  I don’t recall a story where the Enlightenment, the Profundity, came forth at home with the kids or when haggling in the marketplace.  A retreat was necessary, in an isolated Place of Power. The transmission of Power in a sacred place seems to have the capacity to transform a person.

Devil's tower. Sacred to Indian tribes

This retreat is not the exclusive right of the rich, nor the so-called more spiritually advanced or inclined.  This is, and should be preserved as, the birthright of every human.  This transmission of wisdom and awakening takes place in Land free of transmission and electrical lines,  ORV’s, signed and groomed trails, night sky pollution, and other unnatural human effects which distort the Energy of Power Places.  To be so alive with Power, the place must also be alive with all the large and small critters that nature intended to be there.   How can a ‘spirit animal’ come to you and instruct you if their spirit is no longer there?   This is not a matter of belief.  It is imbued in the land itself.  A Silent Spring, as Rachel Carson warned us about, is a dead place spiritually.  It may be pretty to look at, but it lacks all the elements that give it Life.

The Effects of Off-Highway Vehicles on Archaeological Sites and Selected Natural Resources of Red Rock Canyon State Park

We all need places where we can, if we so desire, wander for days without seeing a soul, or a trail; a place where the natural forces of the Earth—drought, fire, wind, are allowed to shape the Land.  A Place where your eyes can come to rest in a limitless horizon of the natural world.  Places where the natural drama of Life is played out by the animals that live there.  That drama, of life and death, is part of the spiritual lesson we are seeking to understand and transcend when we go out alone.  We too are part of that cycle, and having those animals out there, as well as the force of nature to confront, keeps us awake to this present moment.

In our distant past as a people, when we wanted to go on a vision quest or spiritual journey, we knew through our feeling sensitivity the places where we should go and sit; we knew where Power gathered and so there we headed.  In today’s world, how would we know?  We have no culture to guide us, no designated spiritual places.

We must re-learn to trust our innate feeling sense as our guide.  To do this requires a different approach to the outdoors.  There are times when all we want to do is unwind and recreate in nature—to ski, or climb, or backpack, or use an ORV.  That is fine too.  But to be sensitive to Power Places, a different asana is required.  Right approach means curiosity and sensitivity mixed with a healthy respect.   This will guide our noses and give us the information we need to determine the different qualities a place contains.  A good tool is wandering.  Wandering without goal opens our senses.  The posture of ‘not knowing’ or abandoning the ‘need to know’ connects us with our child mind, a mind that is free of constructs and defenses.  Alertness and awareness are necessary when wandering in the wilderness—there are dangers in the form of topography, weather, accidents, or animals like bears, rattlesnakes, or even ticks.   With these few simple intentions in our toolbox of our ‘sacred quest’, nature will guide us easily into the present moment.  Once there, it’s easy to feel what kind of power is in a place.

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10 Responses

  1. Well thought out and deeply felt Les. Well reasoned and explained. Well written too. None of these attributes will reach the ORV crowd as anything but words from the enemy. I stand with you in opposition to motor vehicles being allowed access to pristine places. I stand in opposition to ORV’s being allowed anywhere off road on public lands. I rode motorcycles, “dirt bikes” for over 15 years from the sixties to the eighties around Laramie and in the Medicine Bow National Forest. My friends and I saw the popularity of the machines increase and the areas we rode to suffer permanent damage by those wanting to ride as fast as possible over all terrain with no concern for the place they rode. Their only motivation was to ride as fast as they could to demonsrate how great a rider they were. I sold my motorcycle because of the damage attitude in numbers caused. ORV’s were finally outlawed off road in the Medicine Bow National Forests. They need to be outlawed off road here too. There’s no other choice. Keep with it. Your eloquent voice is needed. Maybe jail time and high fines are needed too.

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  2. ORV’s are just one piece. Really we are talking about a whole way of thinking. For example, the climbers that sued the NPS for the ‘right’ to climb Devil’s Tower in June, (or anytime they wanted) when Indians come there to do sacred ceremony at this power spot, is another reflection of our society’s disconnet with the Sacred. Thanks for reading this longish piece.

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  3. You’re wrong about pills. Prosac cured my wife’s depression. It is a wonder drug.

    Not everyone likes nature. Most people prefer living inside houses surrounded by electronic devices.

    My wife doesn’t like nature at all and only tolerates my occasional forays.

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  4. ‘this type of depression’…depression is complex and I was careful not to lump all into one category. Interestingly enough, that link I provided states new information on pills, psychotalk and depression. Their new findings state that as a general rule psychotherapy is long lasting and curative whereas with pills the depression usually returns.

    I don’t know about your word ‘most people’ but do find it interesting that some people have a lot of fear of nature or prefer big city life. I would bet that everyone can appreciate a good sunset, or Yosemite Falls. Even my own mother who never stepped out in nature much as a New Yorker, told me about her experience at Victoria Falls. I think we all have it in us somewhere deep down. Some of us have just adapted a bit better to city life and our highly developed culture. I think I got left behind on that ride to our present day future.

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    • Psychotherapy includes the use of medication.

      Psychiatrists would be completely useless without pills.

      No amount of talk or nature-walking can cure depression, schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. But pills can.

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      • Currently, there is no known “cure” for either schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder. There is only treatment.

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        • Thank you Neil for your insights. The ability of a child to wander unencumbered is extremely important. There are studies which show that children who wander grow up to be adults with excellent senses of direction. Your comments about open space and the safety of home certainly jive with what children need.

          And just for the record again, I never said that ALL depression was the result of lack of psychic/emotional space. That would be extremely over-simplistic. I know because I was depressed at one time due to long term chronic illness compiled on top of a series of deaths and took anti-depressants for it. It and some talk therapy helped tremendously.

          But I also know that certain ‘holes’ in my heart were stitched together in a profound and lasting deep way that no pills could touch. That process began when I spent over a month at my cabin in the WY wilds after first buying it. I have heard incredible stories from people who were deeply scarred and were finally able to heal through spending time in an open, peaceful and wild environment with enough space to breath and release their pains. So I still stand by my observations of ‘too many rats in the cage’.

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          • You bring up a fascinating idea – sense of direction. I have an excellent sense of direction. My friends acknowledge it too, so maybe it isn’t just self-proclaimed. One of the only times I was ever “lost” and really could not find my way around via landmarks was a scary night in NYC. That subway station eluded me. I did, however, find my way back to my friend’s apartment and started again. The other time was in Cleveland. I see a pattern. Big cities. Too many rats telling me where to go?

            And I know you weren’t lumping in all depression. Perhaps there are as many reasons for depression as there are people. Perhaps there are as many cures as there are thoughts.

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  5. A wonderful blog entry! In response I am pasting something I wrote on “My Own Thoughts and Questions Page”

    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/69d6d/

    “It pays to stop and look, to observe even the tiniest detail, and to become for a moment one with nature rather than an intruder within the natural world. If modern man was not always in such a rush, if he would walk with nature, belonging to it, flowing into it, observing and listening fully, being with his surroundings completely, giving all thoughts to his senses, then man would learn to respect and value all that we have left on this planet –from the tiniest insect to the largest mammal, from the mosses, fungus, and lichens to the tallest, most majestic trees, from the tiniest trickle of a stream to the vastness of the oceans. But I am afraid modern man is too often in a rush, and too preoccupied with thoughts to fully look and understand. And this, I fear, will be part of the downfall of the human species. I believe it is important for every human to walk into, and then with the forest. To walk into and then with the mountain. To walk onto, and then along the shorelines of our lakes and oceans, and be WITH that place. To touch, hold, smell and listen. Thus I believe one must look into the soul of the world around us. But not just look, but also to feel and become one with that soul.”

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  6. Open space as a child was as much of a parent to me as any person. Yes, even though my “open space” was a couple of blocks from my house in Laramie, I could go there on my bike and spend hours. In one direction there was the safety of home, in the other direction there was the safety of seeing nothing but dirt, mountains, sky, clouds, and whatever animals wandered through. When people talk to me of driving through Wyoming, they say “nothing out there.” I disagree, quietly. I will always disagree. I have since visited the house I grew up in, and to my astonishment the open space I called the dirt hills are still there.

    I feel James Michener’s book “Centennial” captures exactly what you’re saying in the form of a grand, expansive novel. This is a strange time to live, to be sure, for this issue alone.

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