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Chapter 5: culture: Travel

Monument Valley, USA – for Calm

A full moon adds drama to the Left Mitten, a Monument Valley formation familiar to fans of John Ford and his John Wayne westerns.

You are – quite literally – in the middle of nowhere – and, unexpectedly, it’s helping. A lot.

How frantic we otherwise normally are. We live competitive crazed lives: we compare ourselves constantly to those who have more, are smarter, seem more organised, look younger…

There are so many reasons to be frantic, and yet – as we know in our hearts – it is even more of a priority to keep an occasional appointment with someone we neglect in our normal madness – a deeper, quieter part of ourselves. We have intimations of it at night, on the motorway or in the grey stillness of the early morning. And we feel it strongly here, deep in Navajo land, on the Utah-Arizona border.

It seems everything we do matters so much but, here, we listen to a different, more humbling message: that everything we do and are is in truth meaningless – when considered from a sufficient distance, from the perspective of the timeless stones, the boundless vistas, the infinite heavens.

To counter our tendencies to exaggerate and panic, we need only meditate on our utter insignificance when measured against aeons of time and space. It was two hundred million years ago that the Triassic seas retreated, and the land rose up to became a high desert plateau that wind and rain have slowly, ever so slowly eroded. Harder capstones gradually emerged, protecting the rock below, to form the slender pinnacles, or buttes, and wider mesas of Monument Valley.

It is baking hot here during the day. The air is thin. It is a place resolutely indifferent to our lives. Here one does not matter; it is obvious – in a quiet, not-unkind way that one’s life is a tiny thing. The desert provides a needed, strategic renewal of perspective.

Beyond the dramatic pillars of rock the empty, very slightly undulating table extends into infinity without any mark of mankind. A light haze builds at the horizon. Banks of distant cloud are touched with pink and gold as the sun starts to go down, the horizontal rays of the sun setting the upright bands of sandstone alight. The ego is loosened, forgets itself.

The desert rehearses in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously; that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept the limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves. This is the lesson written into the stones and the red sands. But so grandly is it written here that we can come away from the desert, not crushed, but inspired by what lies beyond us; privileged to be subject to such majestic necessities.

We have not only travelled to a place, we have heard the whispers, across an ochre wasteland, of a philosophy of wisdom.

 

  

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