I recently visited two beautiful, natural, outdoor spaces which, infused by human intention and touch, have been made into sacred spaces. These places inspired me to consider more deeply the nature of sacred space (and in this case, the nature of sacred spaces in nature), something I’ve always been fascinated with.
Each of the places I visited offered an amazing natural setting with walking trails, forests, water, wildlife, and an invitation to explore. And each place was made truly unique by artistic elements intentionally and artfully placed throughout by human hands. There were differences in the intention of both spaces, but in the end, they offer a similar opportunity to revisit and redefine how nature plays a role in our quest for connection to something larger than ourselves.
The first place my husband and I visited was Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island in Washington State. A 72-acre nature reserve intentionally created to restore old-growth forest and wildlife diversity, Earth Sanctuary has also been designed to incorporate meditative and spiritual elements throughout the natural expanse. Prayer wheels and flags, tiny alters, a large circle of obelisks, medicine circles, and a meditation labyrinth can be found on and off the trails throughout the reserve. Interaction with these objects and spaces is invited, serving as an artful reminder that a walk in nature can be a spiritual experience with a deeper meaning.
The objects and installations at Earth Sanctuary are predominantly Buddhist, setting a subtle tone that instantly invites the practice of quiet meditation and compassion for all beings. Prayer is a strong theme here, with alters, prayer wheels and flags, and medicine circles allowing visitors to easily connect with the intention of healing, for themselves and all beings.
As a whole, the space creates an intention for visitors right away, offering a beautiful, interactive space in which to meditate, pray, and heal.
After our visit to Earth Sanctuary, we traveled to Smoke Farm near Arlington, WA for the Lo-Fi outdoor arts festival. An even greater expanse of land (apparently hundreds of acres in total), we covered only a few acres of the farm. The natural landscape there felt open and meandering. Settled on the Stillaguamish river, the farm’s many winding paths took us through meadows, trees, blackberry-bush lined trails, large and wise-looking trees, and, of course, down to the smooth rock-beds of the river itself.
For this particular weekend festival, art installations had been built right into the land all over the farm, most of them boldly incorporating the natural setting or even using only what was available to them in nature. Live performances, both stationary and traveling, added to the ambiance and gave the magical feeling that one might happen upon something amazing at any moment. Indeed, in this setting, the lines between art and nature began to blur so much that it was easy to look at almost anything– a simple twist of a vine or the interaction between two people– and wonder if it was an art installation.
This is how the arts festival differed from the Earth Sanctuary. It allowed a natural shift in perspective to occur– a softening of our senses of perception and habitual thought patterns. The placement of art and performance invited us to contemplate the surrounding nature with a more creative perspective, changing the scale of things and offering the ability to look with fresh eyes on that which otherwise seems common.
There was also an undeniable sense of intentional connection to the power of place. Just as ceremonies conducted outside often bring in the sacred powers of the specific elements, the installations and performances tended to be found where nature expressed a certain power- under great trees, on the banks of the flowing river, around a large fire, or in an open field under the moon and stars.
As humans, we have the unique ability to infuse the mundane and ordinary with meaning and awe. We can create sacred space anywhere– whether through physical means or a simple shift in perspective. When we understand how to use that power to experience our own inherent wondrous nature, we can begin to live with the sense of amazement, connection, and peace that we, and our environment, deserve.
Thanks for reading! Share your thoughts and replies in the comments below. – xo