“It is not so much that a place heals us - it is our reaction to the place that heals us,” suggests J.Z. Knight, mystic, teacher (Ramtha's School of Enlightenment), author, and expert in the 2004 film, What the Bleep Do We Know? “There is a restorative essence in nature that causes us to look at life, and discover why it is a privilege to be alive.”
“The best experiences are found in nature,” agrees Joshua Mulder, architect of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, located in Northern Colorado. “It is in the unconditioned space of the mind that nature reflects back to you.”
Many spiritual gurus consider life to be grounded in our personal relationships with nature. This belief collides with the American social work ethic, which describes life fulfillment as hard work, diligence, and a two-week paid vacation. This also locks horns with the media's effort to convince us that life should consist of an iPhone, great sex, and a decent life insurance plan. However, once you push these voices out of your head, find a quiet spot where you can contemplate the natural wonders that surround you, suddenly a deeper understanding of life settles into the conscience.
Alive is an interesting word. If you look at a dictionary, its definition states it is “to be filled with energy, activity, and animation.” Across the gambit of cubicles, track housing, and television reality shows, many of us have forgotten what a treasure trove of spiritual awakening awaits us. For those who are ready to look down the rabbit hole, I offer six sacred Colorado destinations, dedicated to the cognition that being alive should mean more than just having a pulse or fogging a mirror.
EARTH AND WIND
The Great Sand Dunes
In biblical scripture, the desert is a wasteland leading to the garden of promise. Parts of the Great Sand Dunes, located in Southern Colorado, are about as barren as you'll find in the sunshine state. However, you might ask what is so inspiring about walking across bits of earth and prehistoric mammoth and bison bone? If you can learn to appreciate isolation, you will eventually understand that it is the mind's interconnection with nature that invigorates the heart and spirit. Nowhere in Colorado can you achieve the kind of harmony where you can sit and hear your own hair grow, than right here in the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya
The greatest spiritual destinations in the world are often located among the highest elevations, where you can visualize just how small we really are in the grand scheme of things. “I have found that in the mountains, the consciousness of nature is more profound for cleansing and getting in touch with ourselves,” says Knight. Located in the Red Feather Lakes area of Northern Colorado, is the Shambhala Mountain Center, which is one of the premier Buddhist retreats in Colorado. One of the biggest attractions to the 600-acre retreat center is its Great Stupa of Dharmakaya.
“We are still working on it,” says architect, Joshua Mulder, who's been involved with the project for the past 24 years. It may appear as if the real accomplishment of this 6,400,000-pound, 108-foot structure, is its realistic aspiration to survive the next 1,000 years. However, its single purpose has always been to promote wisdom, harmony, prosperity, peace, and awaken compassion in everyone who visits. “We also have a Shinto Shrine located behind the stupa, honoring the sun goddess of the indigenous Shinto religion of Japan,” says Mulder. “Last summer I started working on a poetry garden as a monument to Allen Ginsberg (poet), who was a member of this Buddhist community.”
FIRE AND WATER
The Land of the Sun
The masculine energy of fire brings devastation, mayhem, and death. However, from this destruction, soon follows fertility, creation, and rebirth. The Ute Indians named themselves after their homeland, which they described as the land of the sun. “You can go to Ute Mountain Tribal Park, and have native Americans bring you to ancient kivas (chambers used for religious practice), where you can experience the ritual process of their ancestors,” explains Meira Leonard, manager of the Sophia Peace Center, located within the spiritual vortex of the four corner's area. “This is not just about tourism, but understanding what it means to connect with the earth and spirit.”
Not far from the Tribal Park lies another landmark of spiritual awakening, located along the cliffs of the Mesa Verde. “We have a group that performs spiritual rituals at the top of the Mesa Verde at sunrise,” says Leonard. “They say they can sense the history and appreciation of their ancestors, through a retrospection and acknowledgment of their presence.”
The Assumption Orthodox Cathedral
You may have noticed a golden dome located along East Alameda Avenue in Denver. It is strategically located on a hill overlooking the surrounding community. This is only a small portion of the spiritual significance of this structure, as hidden beneath its golden cap is a magnificent spin on traditional architecture and old world artistry. Upon entering the doors to the cathedral, your eyes will be treated to a colorful pictorial of the various saints, gospel, and depictions of heaven. “I visited the Greek Orthodox church during its construction,” confesses Mulder. “While I can't comment on its practice, I can say the building was quite amazing.”
The Dolores River
Water weaves all life upon this planet into one collective garden. It washes our wounds, releases our sadness, and cleanses our sins. “Sitting alone at the ocean (water) - offers an open-ended consciousness of renewal,” describes Knight. “What is left is not the worry you are bracing yourself against, but the thoughts of healing that revitalize you.” El Rio de Nuestra Senora de Dolores (“River of Our Lady of Sorrows”), was named in dedication to the Mother Mary. The Dolores is proof that not only is the surrounding landscape of Colorado blessed by the ancestors of Native Americans, but also two Spanish Catholic priests en route to California in 1776.
THE DIVINE SELF
Spiritual gurus speak of the four elements of life as the root to all existence. This includes the elements of earth, water, fire, and air. However, many pagan traditionalists also believe in a fifth element, known as the human spirit or divine self. “I think the most sacred spot is inside of ourselves, in a moment of spiritual tranquility,” says Knight. “It can be in the backyard as the sun is going down - It can be during a chaotic time at work, waiting at the airport - and believe (you) me - it can even be done on the way to the bathroom.”
“It doesn't matter what you're wearing - it doesn't matter what you look like. What matters is that you care enough to ask the great questions inside of yourself. We have the ability to contact our own inner hero, our own awareness, and be our own greatest defender. Every human being is a blessed being - We only need to be told that...”