For those of us who follow a non-institutional spiritual path, it is important to maintain a keen sense of history. For me, this means understanding the whole trajectory of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Mysticism, as well as the Radical Protestant Mysticism which - in America - morphed into the modern Environmental Movement.
In seeking to develop a viable Wilderness Mysticism, I find it necessary to study both the Western European traditions which have influenced my interpretation, as well as the insights I've learned from Native American Spiritual traditions and from Buddhist influences, especially Vajrayana. Awareness of this kind of history helps bring a sense of groundedness for those of us who are called by the Great Mystery to be "Nones," "Spiritual Not Religious, "Interspiritual," or non-traditional.
Such study in turn helps prevent us from "reinventing the wheel" in a spiritual context, and gives us a rich sense of tradition that may perhaps be even broader than what those who espouse a particular institutional affiliation generally can identify with. This kind of path may not be for everyone, but those of us who follow it need to do so with depth, sincerity and integrity.
In this endeavor, I find an amazing mirror in the rock layers of the Southwest. In this photo taken at Echo Amphitheater (traditionally known as Cañon Retumbido), for example, I can marvel at the rich geological history that went into creating such a beautiful natural artwork. Here is a National Geographic description of the layer-cake rock formations that make up this amazing formation:
"The system of cliffs throughout the region is generally banded in different colors. Starting from the bottom, there is a layer of RED. Geologists call it the “Chinle Group” after Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. It is made up of red siltstone and fine sandstone from ancient streambeds.
"On top of this is 200 feet of fine grained sandstone called the Entrada Formation. It starts with a thick ORANGE layer, then a thin WHITE one, and then a thick YELLOW one. The Entrada layers were a super thick field of sand dunes with no fossils.
"On top of them, pools of brine water formed and made the GREYISH Todilto Formation. This formation can sometimes have fossils in its thin layer of limestone - formed at the bottom of an inland sea - which is capped by a layer of gypsum. Nearby, the gypsum is so thick it forms light grey domes sculpted by gullies.
Isn't it amazing that this region was once composed of criss-crossing Triassic streams (200-250 million years ago), followed by a Jurassic dune-desert environment (140-180 million years ago), followed by a vast inland sea, also present during the Jurassic era? I view the history of Mysticism as a human embodiment of this kind of geologic history - and vice versa. For each is a reflection of the other :)
Photo: Echo Amphitheater, near Abiquiu, NM
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.