May I ask if you have found your Zion yet?
I ask this personal question, and use this familiar word, to talk about a place in your life – a place we all need and need to know precisely where it lies.
I’ll explain in a moment why I use the word, Zion, to name this place. I could have used another. For now, let me say that I don’t intend it as a reference to Judaism or ancient Palestine, or even to other common uses of the word, derived from the original: homeland, heaven, utopia.
When I ask about Zion, I mean to be worldly and pragmatic, and to be thinking of our health. I mean to ask about your Zion, and to challenge you to be able to know and name this place in your life. I want you to reach this place – a natural place where you can be at your best. A place you can return to again and again to renew yourself and to return again to yourself. Or perhaps go to and never again leave.
I need to make certain you are aware just how universal our need is for our personal Zion, whether we are woman or man, adult or child. It is a truth and desire in all of our lives and hearts, whether we know it or not, or can name this feeling and the place it seeks, or not. Most of us are smaller and more fleeting as people without our Zion. We are needier when we do not acknowledge and respond to this deep common need of ours for our Zion, for our natural and spiritual refuge, for that place which is ours even in our sharing of it. Perhaps I do mean homeland, after all, but a personal homeland and one that brings new health and learning to you each time you go to it.
I have just returned from my Zion, my spiritual refuge and personal homeland, my place of peace and power. The experience awakened and reinvigorated me in a way I had hoped for and, as always, in ways I still did not expect. It reminded me of a time, earlier in my life, when I found this wellspring place after tribulations in the desert of my own, and when I was renewed by its majesty and waters running over me. Fresh from my most recent experience of my Zion and still remembering my original time there quite vividly, I would encourage you to do as I have done: to visit or find your Zion as soon as you can.
My latest return to Zion came about accidentally through the course of my work. Unexpectedly, I had to be in the western United States, in the City of Las Vegas specifically, perhaps the most unhealthy and unnatural human settlement on our planet today, though there are many close contenders. The key redeeming feature of this city, for me, is that it is very near the western flank of the Colorado Plateau and therefore some of the best hiking on our planet.
In truth, my own Zion literally is Zion. It is a wilderness area, so-named by American settlers, a two-hour drive from Las Vegas, near where the Arizona, Nevada, and Utah state borders meet. If you have been to this Zion, or to some of the other wild areas nearby, including the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, you know this is a special part of our world. Should you go there, expect towering rock spires, winding canyons millions of years in the making, an undulating river-artist at each canyon floor, and unforgettable sheets of orange stone, striated in layers of time long before ours.
I have been to my Zion many times now, in hot weather and cold. I go to it whenever I can, and one day may go there and simply stay. My experience of this unique and uniquely personal place – linked to a time when I was younger and searching – has deepened each time I have returned. It is still fresh and revealing in each new visit, a young and old place, light and weighty, even after many visits. Perhaps you have a place like this in your life, a higher, rarer, and perhaps distant place that calls you and restores and enlarges you, curiously strengthening and humbling us at the same time. Perhaps you already know and have named this place as your Zion, by whatever word you use.
My Zion is of course more than a scene of geological upheaval and remarkable vistas, more than mountain water moving inexorably through stone to the floor of the Mojave Desert. It is a spiritual place, too, for me and for many other people today, as it has been for people for millennia, since before Zion was Zion in the new world or the old one. My Zion is a place where I can mend and restore myself, and even return to and rediscover myself, as it is for others and as it has been for millennia. As with my most recent visit, I go to Zion each time with expectations of renewal, but never know quite what my experience will entail, what my Zion will see that I need and reveal to me.
Over the years, I have met others who feel this way and know this truth about my Zion. We share our experiences of this unique natural place, with its high mesas and plunging canyons, and are immediately brethren, promising and genuinely hoping to meet there one day. My Zion is a personal homeland and touchstone for many wild and intrepid spirits, few of whom can call it their original birthplace. Each of us has our experiences of this Zion and can never fully communicate them, but in this common limitation of thought and speech we share much. We share the space of our Zion and inexhaustibly so, so much room does it have for individual memories and revelations that they will never touch and never be diminished in purity or intensity.
I should point out that my Zion is always a place where I return to reality and never escape from it. It is there where I am reminded of what the world and nature really are, and what we as people are at our core. I rediscover that I am both a constant and ever changing self, unmoving and yet pulled in many different ways. I am fixed and malleable, like the sculpted ancient rock of my Zion, like its so many paths and shapes. I thus learn and re-learn from Zion to exercise care with myself, with the choices I make each day and with how I spend my days each year. I watch what water I let pass over and through me, and what places I allow myself to pass over and through, as the days turn into years and as the years pass by and slowly sculpt me.
My Zion reminds me each time I visit that we are all rocks of spirit and river-artists of this rock, shapers of our lives and selves and shaped in turn. We all create what we become, even in the face of great obstacles and despite our smallness, as Zion’s modest but irresistible waters work against stone that only seems immovable. My Zion reminds me that we must be present and immortal in our lives, as rock is present and as water is immortal, that we will inevitably shape and shade ourselves in the long flow of our lives, in the long acts of art and creation that are our lives.
During my recent return to Zion, two days of hiking and perfect weather melted away what had been two very busy first months of the year, and two years of busy months before that. I was more exhausted and worn than I realized. More importantly, I was more immersed in my work than I had been aware, far more so than is ever wise, and living more apart from nature, from the real world, than I knew.
In my first extended hike in several months, my Zion returned me to a deeper side of myself, my physical and outdoor self, an earthier and more grounded person than my working self and even my health advocate self, which are both indoors more than I would like. Outdoors in Zion, under clear desert skies and amidst the physical demands of hiking, I returned to a part of me that is calmer and more relaxed, steadier and yet more spontaneous, and somehow more farsighted and insightful in this spontaneity.
This time, my Zion offered new perspective on natural living and what it means to live naturally and healthfully, topics I think a lot about and thought I knew already. I realized during an afternoon ascent that the prospect of natural living was a real and tangible fact in each of our lives, and never simply an idea. Natural living is the physical finding, returning to, and dwelling in the place that is our Zion, in body or in spirit, even if we must seek and find new Zions over our lives. Natural living equally is the finding and dwelling in the deeper, more natural and tangible self that our Zion reveals to us – the deeper, fuller person we are all and always capable of becoming, wherever we are in the journey of our lives. Along a rock wall in Zion, I saw that natural living is also always a path, a real path in our lives, to the side of whatever is the current course of our lives. It is a spur leading to still higher ground, reappearing strangely again and again, patiently waiting for us to take this new path.
In this lesson from my latest visit to my Zion, I was reminded that natural living is a practice of paths and choosing, and a lifetime of turning and returning to ourselves. It is a practice that offers learning and insight as long as it is practiced, but it requires preparation and the courage to move to new and higher leading paths as they appear in our lives. Natural living is a name for the task of iteratively but definitively becoming ourselves and just ourselves, of shaping and being shaped. Natural living challenges us to be ever more deliberate and improvising in order to reach ourselves, as we grow and must ascend ever higher to ourselves.
You can and should set out for your Zion today, and you can and should begin or deepen your practice of natural living at the same time. Both our Zion and our more natural life wait for us in each moment of our lives, calling us to set out for them, calling us to be more directly alive in our lives. They wait patiently for us in each choice we make. They live as a possibility that seeks reality – they are how might will spend the rest of our day, the rest of our year, or the rest of our lives. If we chose to unleash ourselves in this way, we find it is always completely personal, completely about us and who we are and can be, and yet this movement and prospect of more movement is universal and common to us all. Always, in our unleashing, in and on our way to Zion, there is community and kindred spirits.
In my most recent time in Zion, my own roles and outlook were greatly simplified and made earthier, and closer to the heart. For a time, I was again only a hiker, traveling through and inspired by the higher surroundings of my Zion, occasionally helping less experienced hikers with directions and encouragement in some of the more challenging trails, in the challenges of finding their Zion.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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