Sanctuary for Humanity

What is the path of spirit?

Take my hand and walk with me. Together we shall journey a path of deep spiritual connection with this Earth. Along this path you will discover 3 beautiful truths:

You may be surprised to realize that within this organic framework of harmony, humans are not the center of creation as you had once thought. All life is interconnected. Humans, however, must be the caretakers of the Earth, so this path of spirit nurtures within us a sense of responsibility.

As you travel this path, you will begin to cultivate a special relationship with all that is sacred, and in doing so, you arrive at the awareness that you are sacred.

What are the benefits of cultivating a sense of the sacred with the natural world?

In this fast-paced, task-oriented, high-tech society, it’s easy for us to become so totally consumed in the unrelenting cycle of wage earning and consumerism that we lose sight of the purpose of our existence (which is not, by the way, the paying of bills). And although we claim to interact with others at work, at the dinner table, over a cocktail, at the gym, or on our social networking sites, the soul knows that this is superficial at best. Our sense of disconnection and alienation from our true nature and purpose create in us a fragmentation and emptiness that cannot be satisfied by any of our possible addictions—food, sex, exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, mind altering substances, work, shopping, gambling/gaming, or self-pity and suffering.

Cultivating a sacred relationship with the natural world can help us find greater meaning in our individual lives. This meaning is derived from the sense of knowing that we are part of and sustained by a larger whole. When we are nourished by the sense of belonging to the Earth and the universe, we develop a deep trust in the wisdom and self-healing processes of the Earth and its subsystems. The realization that we are all interconnected provides us with the answer for many of our pressing global issues: Love, compassion, and deep caring are the divine expression of our humanity.

How can we cultivate this sacred relationship?

There a numerous ways in which to get “reconnected” with the natural forces of the world, but to make this easy for you, I shall focus only on three: 1) Intentional Walks, 2) Nature Connections, and 3) Meaningful Rituals.

If you sense within yourself a longing for a deeper reality and greater meaning in your life, finding the numinous quality in the world can be as simple as spending time in nature. You do not need to travel to the wilderness, spend money on special clothing or equipment, or arrange for vacation time off (although this can be inspiring!). Most communities have city parks with walking paths or are situated close enough to rivers, streams, ponds, fields, beaches, and wooded areas to make your experience easy enough to be integrated as a regular part of your week. (Refer to the article, “Nature in the City” for more ideas). The frequency of these encounters is perhaps more important than the length of time spent in the natural world. What you will quickly discover is that it is not where you walk, but your mindset as you walk. With this key ingredient, you will find the sacred in the most amazing place—everywhere.

Intentional Walks. There is a different approach to walking in nature to awaken to the sacred than walking for exercise. In her article “Walking on Sacred Soil: In Memory of Thomas Berry,” author and educator, Nancy Mangano Rowe, suggests that it is important to frame a walk as sacred by grounding or centering yourself through prayer or intention before the walk begins and to “end the walk in a mindful way, such as with a bow, a statement of gratitude, a poem, or by standing in silence” (2011, p. 41). If you are a beginner, you may find that gratitude is the simplest and most effective method for framing both a beginning and ending of your walk.

In this article Rowe provides seven different intentional walks designed to develop intimacy with the Earth. As you perform your intentional walks, she recommends that you do the following (inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn):

Maintaining a focus on the present moment and quieting the mind so that it does not get hijacked by our inner dialogue (thought reruns) is perhaps the most difficult part of this practice. Our minds produce thoughts like our salivary glands secrete saliva—and we don’t even realize it. Be gentle and nonjudgmental with yourself when this happens, pulling your attention back to the present and to the sensation of what it feels like to walk in relationship with the living landscape.

The walks do not need to be lengthy. An hour is suggested, but I strongly believe that frequent focused sessions of 20-30 minutes can be very effective. If you have an additional 10-15 minutes at the end of your walk, participate in journaling, poetry, or any form of creative expression to encourage and expand reflection on the experience. It is fascinating to go back through your dated journal entries to witness your own growth and change in perception.

Nature Connections. In her course module, “Ecospirituality: Our Spiritual Connection with Gaia” (2008), Rowe suggests that we participate in experiences that she refers to as Nature Connections to help us enhance our intimacy with the natural world. These short 10- to 15-minute activities are remarkably simple yet powerfully transformative. I have provided a couple of verbatim examples below; however, I would strongly recommend that you experience each of these activities.

Who shares the land with you? (15 minutes)
Step outside your front door, take a deep breath, and center yourself. Walk around your yard or sit quietly and observe your surroundings for 15 minutes. What do you see? What other beings, creatures share the land with you? Listen to the sounds. Who do you hear? What is the feeling that you get when you go out your front door? Are there any tastes or sensations? Is it fully peopled or is there a sense of other beings? Who flies by as you step outside your front door? Look down. Who is present? Who are the onelegged? What trees accompany you on this land? What insects, birds, animals? Who are your companions in this space that you share? After at least 15 minutes, record your experience in your journal. [Click here to read my experience]

Extraordinarily Beautiful (10-15 minutes)
This activity is adapted from an activity by Deena Metzer in her book, Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life's Journey (Metzer, 1992). Go out into your yard and find a natural being that you consider quite ordinary and sit next to it. Perhaps it is a twig, a bone, a pebble. Sit with each of these beings; just gaze at its ordinariness. Just see it as it is. Now look again, this time closer and begin to see the deep beauty of this natural being. See it as extraordinarily beautiful. Spend time with this being merely gazing and appreciating its beauty. When five or ten minutes have elapsed, capture your experience in your journal. What happened to allow you to see the once ordinary natural being as beautiful? How did this shift you and your relationship to this being? [Click here to read my experience [Click here to read my experience]

Meaningful Rituals. Ritual is a potent strategy for cultivating a sacred relationship with the Earth. In their book Rituals of Healing (1994), Jeanne Achterberg, Barbara Dossey, and Leslie Kolkmeier share with us that rituals are:

I feel that most of our modern rituals fail to honor the deep meaning of our connected humanity—primarily because they are now driven by the dollar. How much money is spent each year in the enactment of our multitude of birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, baby showers, graduations, house warmings—not to mention the money spent due to the commercialization of all major holidays? Not many of the rituals I've attended had much depth of meaning beyond the superficial agenda of presents, the cake, and the merrymaking—except for the wishes and blessings when blowing out candles. Weddings may feel more spirit filled, and yet, having survived the planning of my own wedding and my daughter's wedding, I can say that the deep spiritual connection wasn't uppermost in our minds. We were worried that the napkins complemented the tablecloths, and that the bridesmaid’s dresses would look okay on the various body types, etc. You know what I'm talking about :-)

It wasn’t until I enrolled in the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and attended my first seminar that I was introduced to the power of ritual designed to connect participants with a deeper meaning and a way to honor the sacred in daily life. These were not elaborate rituals; they were powerfully simple and easy to perform. Below are a few examples to get you started. You can access Rituals on the Resources page for additional ideas.

Create a special occasion altar. Creating an altar for special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, showers, etc., can be done in a matter of minutes with minimal planning and will engage your guests, providing a meaningful experience. Place a pretty piece of cloth or small blanket on the floor in the middle of your room or on a table that can be the focal point of the event (the table is a good idea if small children will be in attendance).

Special

I typically place a vase of cut flowers or a potted plant in the center of the cloth and add a few candles and miscellaneous items, depending on the purpose of the altar or the occasion. For example, to celebrate my birthday this year, I included several votives, polished river rock, pine cones, moss covered twigs, and crystal confetti.  On the birthday invitation I requested that each family member bring something from nature that spoke to them. The evening of the celebration, each member carefully placed the item on the altar and explained how the item they brought represented a characteristic he or she brought to the family. It was such a touching and memorable experience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house! A modification of this ritual is for you to include all the items on the altar— a collection of various sea shells, for example—and have the guests select one, hold onto it, and when everyone has selected his or her shell, each person tells why he/she was drawn to this particular shell and what the shell has to say. The shell is placed back on the altar with more reverence since each participant now has his or her essence embedded in the object.

Seasonal Altar Spring

Create a seasonal altar. Another special occasion can be created by inviting guests to help in the creation of an altar that celebrates the turning of the seasons, which can coincide with specific solstice dates. This is a more permanent altar that remains in one location throughout the year but takes on a different look and feel based on the season. Each person brings an item to honor the Seasonal Altar Fallseason and adorn the altar. When the item is placed on the altar, the guest presents a blessing to the house, the family, or the world. It doesn’t matter if the flowers die. The dried look is very appealing and also reminds us of the impermanence of life. Fresh cut flowers (or those picked from your yard) can be added at any time.

Rituals for all occasions. A simple ritual such as gratitude, prayer, or intent can be included in virtually any event to enrich everyone’s experience. Each camping trip, canoe trip, kayaking adventure, water skiing weekend, or picnic in the park can include an intentional walk or nature connection to unite with the sacred. Even something as simple as the witnessing of a miraculous sunset can become a sacred moment when gratitude and complete presence in the moment are acknowledged.

The key to creating lasting ritual is to devise something simple yet meaningful, and to continue the practice despite the busyness of daily life. For example, I bring the sacred to my workplace every day through my water and blessing ritual with the plants in my office. This ritual takes place the moment I arrive into my space, and I ensure that every co-worker knows that my work time does not begin until I have greeted, blessed, and watered each plant. The plants in turn help reduce my stress and provide a sense of the sacred throughout the day. Spend a few minutes developing a simple ritual that you can perform each day either for yourself or for your entire family, and practice the ritual for the next couple of weeks. You will be surprised how this can change the way you view yourself and the world around you.

The growing sense of the sacred that you cultivate through intentional walks, nature connections, and rituals will help you to understand that you are indeed part of something greater. Daily routine becomes more meaningful because every moment can be infused with the sacred. Your love of yourself and others expands your compassion. Money and materialism loses importance as you realize that there is no greater gift to give another than the knowledge that each of us is intricately woven into the fabric of life.

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
-Thich Nhat Hanh