By Michelle Cromer
“The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer. Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite, a hunger for more than matter can provide.” Thomas Dubay
At first the beauty was barely noticeable. I stepped out of the school bus that had just driven over 21 miles of a washed out dirt road, and wiped the dust out of my eyes. Chaco Canyon, remote by any standard, had been on my bucket list for years because this shallow, ten-mile canyon situated in Northwest corner New Mexico, is a complete mystery.
Home to the American Southwest’s densest concentration of high quality pueblos, there are few places anywhere that host such a combination of celestially aligned buildings and intriguing petroglyphs.
The inhabitants between 900 and 1150 AD grew sustainable sources of food in the arid desert, accomplished sophisticated astronomy and developed the architecture for multi-story buildings—all unlike anything seen in North America until the 20th Century.
I wasn’t prepared for the beautiful archeology driven outwork expression, causing such a deeply, moving spiritual response.
Standing by a 1000-year-old structure, I slowed my breathing, inhaled dust and felt the shift in my body as I felt home. There was wisdom in the rocks. From the wisdom center of my heart I allowed myself to feel what the land meant to me. I stood in silence. For once I didn’t chase the answer.
The ancient people who lived there called the elements of the earth, angels- the angel of the wind carried my breath as I shared it with those with me and with those that come before me. The angel of the sun warmed me. The angels of the earth mixed the minerals that make my flesh and bones. The angel of the water whispered that the same river in the ocean and the stream has coursed through the veins of every human including me. All of these elements form a sacred marriage and a holy union in this brief experience we call life. They remind me that I am here for such a brief time.
I closed my eyes and I gave my heart to the land and in return I received the experience of beauty, which is a transformative power. I opened my eyes to my guide, author and friend Gregg Braden reciting a Navajo poem:
The beauty that I live with
The beauty that I live by
The beauty upon I base my life.
Recent discoveries in Western science now add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that beauty is a transformative power. More than simply an adjective that describes the colors of a sunset or a rainbow following a late-summer storm, beauty is an experience—specifically, beauty is our experience. Humans are believed to be the only species of life on Earth with the capability of perceiving beauty in the world around them, and within the experiences of their lives. Through our experience of beauty, we’re given the power to change the feelings that we have in our bodies. Our feelings, in turn, are directly linked to the world beyond our bodies.
The ancients believed that feeling—especially the experience of beauty – is the single-most powerful force in the universe. They believed that evoking beauty can directly influence the physical matter of our world. So when we say that beauty has the power to change our lives, it’s no exaggeration to say that the same beauty also has the power to change our world.
I will come back to this place in my heart when I listen to the wind, and I will always remember how precious and sacred we all are. I’m so grateful that the longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.
Here’s to a beautiful new year!