FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
On the Origins of Gratitude: Our Gifts from the Earth
My daughter Emily sits down on a rock shelf only feet from the edge of a thousand foot cliff above the Colorado River. She is looking east across the chasm to the far horizon, waiting. The November full moon will rise momentarily. I sit down in shared silence next to her as the deepening dusk slowly yields to a dim glow emanating from beyond a distant mesa, its black form a monolith standing in timeless presence. This is our last night in the Grand Canyon, where we have celebrated Thanksgiving in the Phantom Ranch Canteen at the bottom with her fiancee’ Ethan and friend Bonnie.
In our six days here we will have hiked over forty miles, descended and ascended a mile into the canyon’s gape; slept too cold; enjoyed rain- lacquered stone; laughed; shared in the simple work of making meals, setting up and breaking down tents; wondered at moss-draped waterfalls, clear creeks, the brash river and varied animal sign; meditated on grazing mule deer and given healing touch to receptive, corralled trail mules.
And as the work and joy of labor and adventure called to us, we shared our questions, observations, aspirations and disappointments in equal measure. We cared for ourselves, each other and the natural environment, our attentions being refined daily. We cultivated a community of collaboration, cooperation and problem solving tuned by empathy, foresight, trust and honesty. Everyday the trail, the weather, the language of color, shape, space and texture worked on us. As our senses became more stimulated, the world became more vivid; as we trudged miles, we became stronger and more agile; as challenges emerged, we became more creative.
The journey’s challenges called upon each of us in our own way. Ethan’s bravery inspired us with his first-ever boulder crossing of a wild and rugged creek; Bonnie’s observant curiosity made us aware of new possibilities; Emily’s organizational foresight kept us on track with meal and schedule planning. Me, well, because of everyone else’s capabilities, I pretty much got to keep my eye on safety, first aid prevention, and the greater arc of the intentions of the trip - connection to self, others and nature.
During this brief, yet intense encounter with the natural world, each person’s strengths came more forward, assuming a visible relief upon the canvas of our group. The natural leadership innate in each of us found its voice accepted, respected and celebrated by the others. We were balanced by our differences, grateful for the beauty and bounty around us and within each other.
I ask myself, what is it about nature immersion which seems to universally draw to the surface a person’s deeper individuality, strength and unique character and gifts? I see the crimson wisps of sunrise become electric and feel electricity in my body; watch the silhouette of a flock of distant birds, like tossed obsidian beads, swarm in that color and I swoon; glance upon the bay’s hammered pewter surface and a subtle grey calm shutters through my muscles.
If all of this of nature effortlessly reflects in my being, then are the collaborative, cooperative and creative elements of a person’s gifts also a reflection of those elements in nature? For where does nature, as a whole, argue, oppose, avoid experimentation, express possessiveness, resign at a momentary failure, or deny opportunity? Could it be that our unique gifts are an expression of nature? That when we spend time in nature we become our nature? That when a group of people spend time in nature together they become balanced by their uniqueness, celebrant of each other’s gifts - a lighter, happier, resourceful, efficient, resilient, generous, gratitude-filled community? This is certainly expressed effortlessly in the culture of the San Bushman of southern Africa, our genetically earliest ancestors and contemporaries.
Looking at clouds over the mountains, I imagine the shade from the sun cooling the animals, the plants; rains nurturing life, filling the streams, bringing flourish to the region. Just by being clouds. And the mice, worms, eagles and bobcats are all as significant to the whole.
Looking around me, I realize each person - the woman pushing her baby’s stroller, the businessman on a call, the student texting away, the servers in the cafe taking orders - all of them, are people I know I can trust in the backcountry. No matter their experience in nature, that in a supportive environment that nurtures their unique voice, they are people that, sooner or later, I would come to rely on for my own survival in a thriving community.
We are all on this walk together. Taking a walk alone for the solitude is invaluable in our noisy and distraction-frenzied world. But a walk in the woods or a week in the wilderness with others also has no equal at awakening, cultivating and refining the essence of sharing life at its best.
PICK OF THE MONTH: The Origins of Gratitude in San Bushmen culture: The Origins Project
We entered the Grand Canyon and emerged filled with it, unified by the shared experience. Our inner Grand Canyon was discovered in Grand Community. Where is your favorite place in nature? Have you shared it lately? The garden, trail, overlook, stream, meadow waiting to be entered whose unifying spirit is waiting to enter you and others?