Since that first visit to the Grand Canyon twenty years ago, I have felt connected to it, not only because of its visual splendor, but because of its raw power to inspire and to heal. When I was tired and weary of my own turbulence, I gazed in awe at its astounding heights and depths and felt its silent force. Then I hiked down its trails to see what secrets it held. What I found was my own folly.
I saw that I lived in only a small portion of myself, governed by thoughts and emotions that come and go like the wind and the rain. But the canyon did not judge my foolishness; it simply gave me the wide open space to quietly look within.
Wishing you every Blessing,
It became clear to me that the Grand Canyon is alive. It has power and purpose beyond my capacity to understand or describe. And it can communicate; not with words of course, but through color, sound, light and shadow. It’s the same language used by gifted artists who tap into the mystery of what underpins life to convey a message from the soul, a tender vibration that enters the heart like the strings of a finely tuned violin.
Perhaps the language spoken by the Grand Canyon might be the vibration of the earth itself, a sacred song composed only for ears which can hear it. It may not be quantifiable by science, but can be discerned by an ancient people like the Hopi. In this sense, the Canyon’s rocks are not inert or lifeless. They are a living presence.
Geologists say there are rocks in the Grand Canyon that are nearly two billion years old. Two billion! Over enormous stretches of time, water, wind and erosion have made it the spectacular place that five million people come to see every year. People from all over the world visit the Grand Canyon not only to see and photograph the marvels of it, but to experience the mystery of creation; to stare in silence at a stupendous natural beauty untouched by man.
But the ancient beauty of the Grand Canyon may soon be scarred and disfigured by human hands. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, commercial developers are proposing hotels, restaurants and shops on a nearby mesa that is part of the Navajo Indian Reservation. Building plans include a “gondola ride” to the canyon floor where hordes of tourists can dine. This could cause pollution and damage to the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers which merge there – the place where the Hopi creation story begins. It’s also a sacred place to the Navajo, the meeting point of male and female energies and where ancestral spirits gather.
The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was on a cold, sunny day in January. Fresh fallen snow covered canyon peaks like a soft, wooly blanket. Limbs of tall, fragrant pine trees glistened brightly in their garments of snow and ice. From the canyon’s South Rim, I watched the setting sun play a silent symphony of light and shadow that magically traveled over massive red rock walls. My knees nearly buckled as I stood in awe of stunning, never-ending vistas that captured my heart and left me breathless.
The Grand Canyon has been called “the womb of the earth” by Native Americans because of a creation story which depicts the emergence of the material world out of its inner depths. To pueblo Indian tribes of Northern Arizona, and to the Hopi in particular, the Grand Canyon is sacred ground; a land where deities brought forth the origin of time and where ancestral spirits dwell.
For the Hopi, the Grand Canyon is a place where life, death and eternity meet and co-exist. Their ancestors emerged from its depths, and after death, their departed spirits went to live among the towering rock formations at the root of the world. Thus, life and death are not separate, but one dynamic continuum with its source in an invisible realm. It is said the Hopi continually send prayers into the Grand Canyon to protect and nourish it because their ancestors promised their Creator to safeguard its life-affirming beauty.
"The Grand Canyon is a land of song."
John Wesley Powell
"When your spirit cries for peace,
come to a world of canyons deep in the old land,
feel the exultation of high plateaus,
the strength of moving waters,
the simplicity of sand and grass,
the silence of growth."
When will we come to our senses and realize that not everything that can be exploited for profit should be? Aren’t there some things that must be preserved in their wildness and primal beauty simply because they support so many other life forms, and enrich the greater good now and in the future? “Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it,” said Theodore Roosevelt when he saw the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt and John Muir were the architects of preserving America’s natural wonders, which include the Grand Canyon National Park.
Whenever I need to decompress from the hustle of daily life, I turn to the natural world where I’m reminded of another realm of being and feel nurtured by invisible hands. While it’s possible to sit on a meditation cushion in the midst of life’s confusion and be at peace within, it is comforting and enlivening to be in communion with the wonders of nature.
My first pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon was twenty years ago in winter when tourists are few, but when weather is a challenge. It came at a time when I had to escape the madness of the city. In retrospect, I was also trying to escape from myself; the little self who is always absorbed in the past or future. I stayed for a week in a no-frills cabin on the South Rim.
Each morning before sunrise I found a spot near the canyon’s edge and sat down to quiet my mind with the rising sun. When the sun came up, I watched morning light sweep across a magnificent landscape as vibrant colors of red and orange, once hidden in night’s shadow, burst into bloom with daylight. I felt invigorated, alive to the sights and sounds of one of the greatest natural wonders in the world.
Witnessing the canyon wake up from its slumber at daybreak was the best part of my day; an hour of being with a cherished new friend who gave me joy, strength and vitality in exchange for my simply being there. This was a startling revelation to me because there seemed to be a mysterious play of energies between me and the canyon; between my focused attention and the primeval presence that makes the Grand Canyon what it is.
Song of the Canyon
by Cynthia Overweg