“Many of the tribal peoples of the world recognize that there are four places in nature where you can find deep peace and remember who you really are. One is in the deep woods; one is in the desert; one in the mountains and one near the ocean. ”
Angeles Arrien, “The Second Half of Life” transcript
Where are your “sacred places” where you can find deep peace and remember who you really are?
A couple weeks ago I took a quick trip down to Monticello, Utah to visit my grandfather. Grandma passed away in July and he’s alone in the house now without much family nearby so I thought I’d go hang out with him for a bit. He put me to work on the farm and pretty much wore me out, but on the drive back I stopped to capture a few landscape images.
I decided to visit a place I’d never been before in the “Island in the Sky” area of Canyonlands National Park; a remote location called “False Kiva.” It’s well known to landscape photographers, but you won’t find it on any of the park maps. Technically it’s an archeological site and the national park personnel don’t really want many people going there to disturb it, but it’s not hard to find directions if you do a little searching online. It is a human-made circle of stones hidden high up in a protected alcove overlooking the canyon hundreds of feet below. The “False” kiva name is due to the unknown origin and purpose of the stone circle.
If you know where you’re going the trail isn’t hard to follow, as parts are marked with small rock cairns. But I followed a “false” trail at the beginning and wound up at the top of a huge cliff about a thousand feet above the canyon floor, probably directly above the False Kiva alcove. There I found a young Asian couple who had also taken the wrong path looking for the site, and after consulting my directions backtracked a little ways to find the right trail that wound down the rocky cliffside. The couple walked with me for a few minutes, then decided to stay back as they weren’t certain of the path and looked a little worried about where it was leading. The late afternoon sun was hot, the trail rocky and steep in places, and my seasonal allergies were in overdrive, but I found my way down the rocky cliff face then up to the hidden alcove. It’s the kind of place that you don’t know you’re close until you’re right there.
I was the only one at the site, and I just stood there a little stunned for a few minutes as I looked out over the expansive valley below. The amazing view, the complete silence (except for the sounds of my breathing and heart beating), and the unique feeling that surrounded the site made me completely forget about the camera and tripod I had been carrying and just enjoy the peace that enveloped me. Simply stated, this felt like a sacred place.
I’ve had similar feelings at many other sites. Delicate Arch, Angel’s Landing, Yosemite Valley, Pearl Harbor, the Lincoln Memorial, Bryce Canyon, LDS temples, the summit of Pikes Peak, and Martin’s Cove are just a few off the top of my head. These kinds of places are often unique, awe-inspiring, and/or associated with important experiences, facilitating calm reflection and eliciting feelings of peace, power, and reverence. I’m also grateful that sacred places don’t always need to be situated in unique or dramatic settings. My backyard patio, car, living room, and office (among other ordinary places) have all been sacred sites for me at times, when my mind is right. As I think about this, perhaps one of the greatest life skills a person can develop is to be able, in any setting, to quickly set aside the trivial and mundane things that often occupy the mind and transition to a state of openness, reflection, and reverence; to be able to “find deep peace and remember who you really are”; to make wherever you are a “sacred place.”
Back at False Kiva, I did get around to setting up my tripod and recording some nice images of this unique location. I took my time and had been there alone for over an hour when the young Asian couple finally arrived. They had backtracked to the very start of the trail and then found their way. I enjoyed talking with them for a while, then left to let them enjoy the serenity of the scene with just the two of them.
Reflecting on my visit to False Kiva has made me feel grateful for sacred places in my life.
If you don’t mind sharing, what are some of your favorite “sacred places” (in nature, or otherwise)?