Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my 22-year old daughter, Gioia, stirred my soul like only peak experiences can. For five days last month we were immersed in the Canyon’s magnificence, completely cut off from the outside world. What a gift! Engulfed in a timeless hallowed space, every moment felt sacred.

Captivated by this ancient canyon, I began to discern a deeper perspective on life in our country as well as on planet Earth. We, Americans, are such a tiny spec of history. Nearly two billion years old, the Grand Canyon opens up a most profound lens from which to examine our lives.

In the 100+ degree, dry heat of the Canyon, life is truly precious. Everyone on our voyage (24 people in six rafts) looked out for each other’s health and safety. We made sure we all had enough drinking water, sunscreen and protective clothing. Running the rapids, we paddled in harmony to avoid being capsized by the five-foot or greater waves crashing over us. Hiking in the Canyon, we extended a helping hand to one another as we climbed up steep granite rocks. We understood our welfare, perhaps even our lives, depended on our mutual support.

Outside the Canyon, however, Americans don’t often hold that belief. Yes, we have our communities and neighborhoods where people work cooperatively to plant gardens or watch out for burglars. But, generally, Americans like to go their own way, the preferred choice of a private vehicle over mass transit being the textbook example. Moreover, we think we know best and distrust those with contrary opinions. Consequently, we are less inclined to engage with others outside our familiar circles to develop more inclusive solutions to a communal issue. Frequently, it takes an immediate crisis for most Americans to pull together for the common good.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in our nation’s current politics. While both the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure, among other major concerns, badly need improving, our politicians are too tied to their respective parties, not to mention their big money donors, to work together on broad-based answers to these problems. After many months of bickering, it took the disaster of Hurricane Harvey and the pending Hurricane Irma catastrophe for Congress to finally pass meaningful legislation to assist the American people.

While many factors determine our actions and attitudes, one influence appears to stand out when I reflect on my unifying experience in the Grand Canyon compared to the more diffuse, often divisive, atmosphere in the rest of our country and the world. It’s the sacred space of the Canyon that made all the difference.

In the depths of the Canyon, there were no competing voices. No TV commercials. No op-eds. No Big Money influencing one’s views. Not even any bills to pay or emails to answer. There was nothing between the grandeur of the Earth, our precious home, and me. Yet, that space was not empty. It overflowed with Spirit, and filled my heart and soul.

I wonder what it would take for each of us to rise above all the noise and confusion of our modern world and live in that sacred space where unity, the common good, was our primary goal. Of course, that’s a huge challenge. But if we each took it on, I’m certain our country, as well as the planet, would be so much better off. Are you willing to give it a try?

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