Canyon de Chelley (pronounced de Shay’), is a canyon I have been to many times and I always feel nurtured there. Located on Navajo lands in present-day Arizona, it has been co-maintained by the Navajo people in partnership with the US Park Service for over sixty years. But such knowledge disappears once you are in the canyon, as does any sense of linear time.
Entering this canyon, as with any canyon, is a journey into the heart of time. But I prefer not to analyze it as a geologist might; instead, I breathe in the presence of water, wind, and eternity. It is no wonder that sand sifting through an hourglass is a powerful symbol of the passage of time. Inside a sandstone canyon, you feel the organic quality of time. Time is stone. It is stone caressed by wind and water, seduced out of its hardness into sand and soft, wet clay. The whole experience is one of continual birthing. I feel reborn and renewed.
Have you ever noticed how the crevices in a canyon, if followed, inevitably lead to water? On this day, I followed the channels in the rock until I was led to an alcove where the early spring waters had just arrived. I had to crouch low to enter. Once inside, I listened. The gurgling waters spoke first, and seemed to welcome me. I gave thanks to the water. Gradually, I expanded my listening outward and upward. The cottonwoods sang a song through their leaves while, a thousand or more feet above, ravens and hawks danced in harmony, riding the upper crest of the same winds. The above and the below, the past and the present, were one. That evening, I had a vivid dream.
Several of us are in a sacred site—a deep canyon. We are actually underneath the canyon floor emerging as corn through the rock. We emerge through layers of rock and water into the lush canyon floor. I sense time slipping. We are connected to everything in this original source of emergence. We relive the original emergence and at the same time are aware of present day reality as people. The sandstone itself is time; it allows for passage between the worlds. We emerge through the rock like corn people and are renewed.
Upon awakening, I was greatly moved; I felt more human. I felt more human through my connection with realms normally beyond the human. And then something happened—not when I was at Canyon de Chelley, but after leaving. A short three days later, I traveled by plane to New York City with my wife Tomoko and 14 year old nephew (Kaito) visiting from Japan. I was sure that our arrival in New York would break the reverie of being in my favorite canyon, but this was not the case at all. As soon as I closed my eyes, I was flooded with imagery of Canyon de Chelley overlapping and merging with the contours of Manhattan’s streets and skyscrapers. The entire night, I immersed myself in a creative hybrid dreamscape that was half Canyon de Chelley and half Manhattan. The message was unmistakable. New York City is a canyon too.
The entire next day, the imagery remained with me, even as we went about a busy schedule. We walked briskly through the Manhattan streets, twisting and turning to make our way through, and I flashed back to my dreams of people rushing and swirling about like moving water into the sandy floor/streets of “Canyon de Manhattan.” People as water? Why not? We humans are made up of 70% water. Then, as the wind knifed through the narrow streets, I remembered the intensity of the winds in my dreams. I had felt my consciousness as the steel and glass walls; the wind was pounding against my own body. I looked around at the immense skyscrapers that surrounded me and wondered: How long can these buildings survive the elements?
We consider these buildings so permanent—we were shocked when the Twin Towers collapsed in 9/11. But these walls will eventually collapse, all of them, and not because of terrorist attacks, but because of time and nature. The idea that human beings can build a canyon and make it last forever is an act of hubris. New York will crumble, and sooner than we think. It will eventually lie buried underneath the ocean floor, like many lost civilizations from our ancient past. This ignominious end is coming, and has already been foreshadowed by the partial submersion that occurred during Hurricane Sandy.
In 2015, there was a massive Climate Change rally in New York City. Over 400,000 people were there, and the sheer magnitude of the event ensured that it break through the shell of indifference that normally prevails amongst contemporary media. The people are being awakened, and that’s a good thing. At the same time, it is my prayer that the people be awakened in a deep and profound way—that they don’t simply make climate change the enemy. For it is not a war on climate change I desire, but a deep realization of how human beings are embedded in the natural order. The changing climate is an opportunity to reassess our relationship with the natural world and our own past. It is an opportunity to pause from our frenetic pace in pursuit of “progress” and to remember that humanity only imagines that it can chart its own course independent from nature, but that we cannot.
I am not denying the existence of free will. We have the ability to make choices, yes. But we can choose to move in a way that is in tune with what wants to happen in nature rather than resisting what is already unfolding. It so happens that many of the ways to mitigate climate change are also restorative of the earth. Reducing or eliminating fracking, which tampers with the fragile groundwater of Mother Earth, is essential, as well as reducing or eliminating fossil fuel extraction and making a real commitment, as Germany has, to switching to renewable energy sources.
The reason for doing this, however, is beyond any results we may achieve in slowing climate change. Climate change is not the enemy. It is our thinking that has created this world we live in. If we “attack” climate change with more of the same thinking, we will only repeat our past mistakes, and especially our tendency to imagine that technological intervention is the solution to everything. Technology is good only when it is in service to the people and all our relations on the planet. The core issue, as I see it, is to restore our understanding of all of life as a sacred hoop, and to remember that humans exist not for ourselves, but for the whole of creation.
We speak of geologic time as if it is an anomaly, as if human constructed time were more normal, more real. The opposite is true. The rhythms of the earth are real time, or the real timing with which we should concern ourselves with. In pondering what it means for New York to be a canyon, I realized that a natural canyon takes millions, even billions of years to form. New York, on the other hand, was made in just over 200 years. This made me realize how young, how vulnerable, and now fluid, New York is, in ways that I ordinarily wouldn’t consider.
Don’t get me wrong. There is something impressive about New York, as there is about Tokyo, London, Paris, or any other great city. A mass of people gathered together creates excitement. You can feel it in the air. Your thinking is quicker, sharper, more focused, like the vertical lines of the streets. These cities represent the pinnacle of man’s progress. Or so we are told.
Could it be that these great cities of today are no greater than the cities of yesteryear? I believe so. Great cities come and go. Humankind reaches, then overreaches, and eventually collapses, only to rise again. Linear progress is an illusion. The only real progress is an unfoldment of the seeds of imagination that were already planted.
The seed I would like to see planted is that it is possible for humankind to live again in accord with the rhythms of the Earth. The human heart can once again beat with the heartbeat of Mother Earth—and this has nothing to do with returning to the past and everything to do with awareness of the fullness of the present moment. Life need not be seen as a progressive movement away from the Earth, as something that requires heroic effort to maintain or repair. It is far better, in my view, to align ourselves with the larger forces of nature than to attempt to conquer her. Go with her will, and willingly.
Ultimately, the circle of life and the circle of geologic time prevails. The streets of today return to the grassy plains of yesterday. Look – there’s a piece of grass coming up through a break in the concrete now. It is already underway.
The preceding was adapted from Original Thinking: A Radical ReVisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature by Glenn Aparicio Parry, and is reprinted with the permission of North Atlantic Books © 2015.
Glenn Aparicio Parry, PhD, of Basque, Aragon Spanish, and Jewish descent, is the author of Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again (SelectBooks, 2020) and the Nautilus award-winning Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature (North Atlantic Books, 2015). Parry is an educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher whose passion is to reform thinking and society into a coherent, cohesive, whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the director of a grass-roots think tank, the Circle for Original Thinking and will be shortly debuting a podcast of the same name in conjunction with Ecology Prime. He has lived in northern New Mexico since 1994. www.originalpolitics.us
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