Having spent the better part of 4 years exploring the rest of the world, in 2004 I decided it was high time I explored my own backyard, so to speak. That July, I loaded up my father's motor home, and for 1 month I explored the western U.S. - just me, a friend, and my dog. The idea was to take our time, wander through each state, pull over when we were tired, get up when we were rested, and take in all the mystery and excitement the days had to offer.
Little did I know that my perspective on life, the very core of my belief about myself would shift in that four weeks. Now, I've driven through the Alps; I've hiked the Great Wall of China; I've toured the ancient ruins of Greece and Italy; and each trip has made me a better person - more tolerant, more kind, more compassionate. My trip through the U.S., however, made me small. Let me explain.
Hiking into the Grand Canyon and observing the Meteor Crater; walking amongst the sequoias, thousands of years old; imagining the power that is unleashed when Mount Saint Helens erupts... you can't help but feel that the universe is so much bigger than we are. Sure, we plan our lives to the tiniest detail; we build our homes and fill them with things; we watch the stock market in anticipation that soon the economy will recover, ever looking for hope. But what are these things? In the face of a meteor crater whose impact could, in a matter of seconds, end civilization as we know it; in the shadow of a volcano whose pressure will again be unleashed upon us, to what do these plans of ours amount?
It was truly the most humbling experience of my life to realize that I will surely come and go, but the universe has existed farther back than I can imagine and will continue long after I am gone. In the grand scheme, my part is small and my importance negligible. If the Earth could speak, I have no doubt it would admonish us for the value we place on our own existence. What are we that live 100 years to a tree that lives 2000?
How important then it is to acknowledge our place in this grand scheme. Because it is in realizing how small we truly are that we are awed, inspired, and moved to revere what is so much bigger than ourselves; to care for and protect as it has cared for and protected us. We are small, but a distinct part of this world - not separate from it. There is no place where it begins and we end. We are born and nourished by the Earth, then die and are nourishment for it. We are one, in an infinite cycle of giving and receiving.
And while I had begun my journey of simplicity long before that summer holiday, as surely as I breathe, it deepened my commitment to my need for less. It is only when we look beyond ourselves to the bigger picture that we find peace, contentment, a sense of place. It's not to be had in the future in some heavenly realm, but today in the beauty of a precious Mother Earth.