Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Finding my place in the grand scheme

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.

This post is my submission to the February APLS Carnival, "Nature and the Environment." Be sure to visit Green Phone Booth on February 20, to see how others have been inspired by nature to make a difference in their lives and in the world.

13 comments:

Green Resolutions said...

Awesome post. What a great opportunity you had. Thanks for sharing the perspective.

Jenelle said...

I always enjoy reading your blog. No matter what is happening during the day or what I'm stressed about, you help me put things in perspective. You are GREAT!

Heather @ SGF said...

Green Resolutions - It really was a great trip. Humbling...

Jenelle - Thanks!

Beany said...

I had no idea the U.S. was so gorgeous until recently. You're right, it was very humbling and I didn't even see that much of what is available to be seen.

It must have been such an amazing adventure though...I bet your travel experiences made you who you are today. I do wish that I had a 300 year lifespan to look forward to though...there is just so many places to see and experience. I couldn't possibly do it in this lifetime.

I agree with Jenelle, I love your wonderfully uplifting attitude. Sometimes I wind up reading your blog when I'm grouchy and I read that statement, "because when you stop and really take in all that life has to offer, every day can be a beautiful adventure," I feel like all my problems seem so insignificant. And it always puts a smile on my face.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - I know exactly what you mean. I travelled all over the globe before I realized what beauty we have right here in the States. How ever, with all that beauty did I end up living in Muncie IN and Bryan TX all my life? Oh well. There's always vacation :)

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. Lots of times people forget to check out the diversity and beauty of their own country in favor of going somewhere else, somewhere more exotic. Too bad.

Ingrid (in Canada)

Heather @ SGF said...

Ingrid - You're right. I've done the West US trip twice now. Gorgeous!

Donna said...

Great post. I can hardly believe the wonderful places we have just in the western US. Everybody should have the opportunity to take a trip like you did!

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

I've lived in Colorado, Nebraska, Washington, Alaska, New Hampshire and now Canada (yes-I get around). I am always amazed at the unique beauty each of these places have to offer. To me, endless fields of whispering grass or sunflowers as far as the eye can see can be just as majestic as a craggy snow-topped mountain.

Thank you for reminding us all that beauty is all around us and we may not need to travel far to experience something truly incredible and humbling.

Heather @ SGF said...

Donna - Thanks! Taking the trip in the motor home was definitely a budget-friendly way to see the US. I would recommend it to anyone. It was a wonderful adventure!

Jenni - Wow! You have moved around, haven't you? What a great opportunity to experience different parts of the county. It's great that you have found a different kind of beauty in each spot!

Green Bean said...

Wonderful post. I have to say that I felt the same way last year when I walked through a grove of Grand Sequoias and felt so small, so fleeting. One advantage of this economy may be that people will recognize the specialness of our own backyards.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

I wonder if the feeling of smallness you discuss is part of why children seem to naturally care about the earth. Knowing we are small, even when fully grown, is quite humbling.

Thanks for the lovely reminder of the beauty right here.

Heather @ SGF said...

Green Bean - I agree. With the economy the way it is, our culture is ripe for some very good changes. I think that's why we're seeing so much action at the farmers' market too.

Steph - I think that may be part of it, but I also think when we're kids, the world is all new to us. As we get older, I think we start taking the wonder of the Earth for granted and forget what an amazing home she is.