Saturday, March 1, 2014

Geography and Spirituality

"In the Wild"
-no fences, no walls, no borders-

The neighborhood where my house is located is pretty much like most any neighborhood anywhere. It is all divided and carved up by carefully plotted streets and avenues. The houses are built on parcels of land, most of which are surrounded by fences and walls separating each house from neighboring dwellings. Everything is neatly contained and compartmentalized, parceled out, organized and categorized. 

Recently I happened upon a museum exhibit detailing some of the history of the desert where we live. Interestingly enough, less than 100 years ago there were no houses in this neighborhood- no streets or walls, no fences or borders - it was all just "wild" undeveloped desert terrain. 

In fact,  if I want to see what this neighborhood used to look like, alI I have to do is cross the street in front of my house, and I am in the "wild" - a vast untouched desert sanctuary as far as the eye can see.

I do a lot of reading about "desert" spirituality. I am convinced that the physical and geographical place where we "settle in" to make our home has an enormous influence on our worldview- how we see ourselves and others, how we understand our relationship with all creation, how we envision "God." 

The poet Rainer Marie Rilke attempts to describe the longings of every human heart when he writes about the very deepest places in the human spirit. Every soul desires to:

See everything
-and ourselves in everything,
healed and whole 

I find great wisdom in that one little saying. I believe that every human being, religious or not religious, believer, atheists or agnostic, we all yearn to be "at-one-with" the universe.  We desire more than to somehow feel connected. We yearn to be "at one with" everyone and everything that has being.  

This is what the spiritual journey is all about and every human being everywhere (whether they acknowledge it or not) is always on the pathway of this spiritual journey.

As one of my desert spirituality books puts it:

Human beings long to know oneself not as a solitary autonomous being 
but as one whose identity can only be conceived of as existing within an
intricate web of encompassing relationships.

But geography does indeed make a difference in our longing to be "at-one-with." Our geography always influences our spirituality. 

Like most every neighborhood, the neighborhood in which my home is located places limits on those deepest longings of the human heart. Like many other people, I am settled into a parcel of land, divided by borders and walls and fences- compartmentalized and separated. It disconnects me, when I yearn to be "at one with."  

I am not compelled to go beyond the walls that surround my home in this, my little space on earth. Should I choose to do so, I can hide away here inside these walls, separated and isolated. Should I choose to do so, I can starve my spirit and prevent myself from feeding the deepest hungers of my soul.

Lots of people choose to live within the limits. Not me.

I often hear people say that when they go out into "nature," they feel more spiritual. Walking along a sandy beach with the waves of an endless ocean lapping the shore is such a spiritual place. Hike up a mountain that overlooks boundless fields of flowing meadows in the valley below, and you want to write a poem or sing a song because it is such a "spiritual" place.

These are spiritual places because the geography is not limiting. These are open and endless places,  where you can feel "at-one-with" it all.  The geography feeds the longings of the heart.  

I walk out into the desert just across the street from me and I am suddenly in one of those "spiritual" places - a place for which my spirit longs. Standing in the "wild, "I am "at-one-with" everything and everyone,  at one with the universe, at one with an ever abiding Hoy Presence. It is untamed territory,  unlimited and without restrictions, no categories, no parcels, no fences or walls. 

 All in One, and One in All. 

It's beautiful here inside my garden but my spirit longs to go beyond the gates.


  1. Thank you for this! I needed to hear this. I've been telling my roommate I felt like just taking off on an adventure lately.

  2. I have become over time an atheist, having been for the majority of my adult life a Christian. I really appreciated this post and found it provoking. The idea that environment has a role to play in our spirituality is one that makes a lot of sense. I am one of those people that find connection and grounding and a sense of transcendence when I go out into nature for long hikes. It is where my soul, for lack of a better word, feels truly at home, at rest. Maybe the point of spirituality is to cultivate that sense of oneness and transcendence within us so that we feel that way wherever we are? Thoughts?

    Yesterday I had a spiritual experience and wrote about it. If you have the time I'd value your thoughts on it. No worries if you don't get to it.

    ~ namaste~