Friday, March 14, 2014

Something healing this way comes . . .

      Not very far north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and just a few curvy miles off of Highway One lies an incredible stand of redwood trees.  President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed this magnificent area a National Monument in 1908, and it was named for conservationist John Muir, who responded:  "This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possible be found in all the forests of the world.  You have done me great honor, and I am proud of it."
       Park visitors walk in awe beneath trees that started growing well-before the United States declared its independence from Britain; 
indeed many trees predate Columbus' voyage to the "new world."  The trees reach 250 feet in height, and some are over fourteen feet wide.  Sunight filters greenly down through the needles and the leaves of deciduous trees, combining with the blues of Stellars Jays, the browns and grays of squirrels and the yellows of giant banana slugs to create a riot of color.  The sounds of the animals mix with the sound of the breeze in the foliage and the water in Redwood Creek.  Ferns line the paths, paths that feel the footsteps of thousands of visitors every year.   It is no wonder that one area of the Park is known as Cathedral Grove.
        It wasn't just the colors and sounds -- or the name "Cathedral Grove" -- that drew me many times to visit from across the San Francisco Bay.  Yes, as an "S" in the Myers-Briggs typology, I take in information through my senses, and Muir Woods could almost be described as "sensory overload."  Usually I made the drive not to "look" at the beauty of Muir Woods, but rather to "experience" it.  Maybe it was the sensory overload, but being in that beautiful place took me away from many of the concerns that were weighing me down, concerns and worries that, if left untended, might have developed into more serious, physical, health problems.
       Being in Muir Woods -- and now in the beauty of the Rockies -- was healing.  I couldn't really verbalize WHY; I just knew it was.  In reading Esther Sternberg's Healing Spaces:  The Science of Place and Well-Being* for this past week's book discussion, I gained, however, a different set of insights into what I was experiencing.  Sights, sounds, smells, and bodily activities all, in very mysterious (at least to to this non-scientist) neurological and biological ways can contribute to the body's healing processes.  A simple example is the increased incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder in parts of the northern hemisphere that experience prolonged periods of darkness (e.g., winter in Scandinavia), as opposed to those areas further south (e.g., Spain and Italy).  Intuitively, this made sense; the science behind it all had a different effect:  my desire to spend even MORE time in beautiful places.
       AT the University of Denver, we are beginning that break between quarters; we are on the verge of spring.  Next week brings the equinox that marks its "official" beginning.  Many of us are hankering for warmer weather.  I imagine that part of this longing is for more time out-of-doors, for the longer days in the sun (especially in Colorado), for the healing that that time will bring.  I hope to spend a good part of next Thursday out-of-doors, reveling in the healing qualities of all that my senses can absorb.

Chaplain Gary

* Harvard, 2009.

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