Hope for the New Year: Experiencing the Sacred in the Great Lakes
My hope for the new year is that you have a specific place somewhere in the Great Lakes Basin that has special meaning to you, and that you get to enjoy it as we begin 2021. If you don't, I hope you develop a new connection to a place, that it may feed your soul, help you cope with these pandemic-stressed days of winter, and inspire you to do your unique part for the common good.
In 2014, Wallace J. Nichols published his book Blue Mind (1) on the connection humans have with water, including how that connection postively impacts our own spirit and our commitment to the world around us.
In the book, Nichols cites a number of studies that illustrate that positive impact when we find ourselves around water and nature in general. For example, a 2011 study of 452 students in Edmonton, Alberta, Nichols writes, “showed that feeling connected to nature led to greater feelings of awe, vitality, purpose, and more positive emotions overall.”
Even if if being surrounded by nature is only in our mind, a 2009 study showed that “people who viewed nature scenes and imagined themselves fully immersed in nature were more concerned with pro social goals and more willing to give to others,” according to Nichols.
Those positive emotions and reactions result in part from a feeling of oneness we can experience when immersed in nature, as Nichols writes, “many of us feel moments or even hours of (a) sense of oneness and spirituality when we interact with nature, especially with water and the creatures we find there.”
For me, that has certainly been my experience, especially one night while spending the weekend in South Haven, MI on the shore of Lake Michigan. The night was stormy, with the water crashing over the pier in wave after wave. It seemed the Lake was dancing, in a steady rhythm but unable to control its enthusiasm, arms and legs of water spraying in all directions. At that moment, Lake Michigan seemed alive in a way that I had never experienced before, and as I carefully made my way just a bit out onto the pier, I felt the water dancing with me, urging my arms and legs to show the same abandon.
Moments like that stormy night, and many others, have strongly connected me to the Great Lakes. I believe a sense of connection to place is one of the foundations of a Great Lakes spirituality. Nichols writes about that when he quotes Laura Fredrickson and Dorothy Anderson: “One cannot help but develop some form of attachment to the various social and natural landscapes that one encounters and moves through in one’s lifetime, and frequently the feelings one forms in response to a particular place can be especially strong and overwhelming.”
Nichols goes on to write, “We become attached to our particular 'piece' of nature and treasure it for the experiences we have had there: it becomes our ‘sacred space.’ Your sacred space may be an inaccessible bit of wilderness reached only by foot or canoe; or it may be amidst the waters themselves, as you fished, sailed, or slipped in and felt the power of the water beneath or around you. But whenever or however you enter it, you feel connected to something greater than yourself.”
As we all turn the page on what has been a difficult year, may 2021 bring you moments of healing, hope, inspiration, joy, and a connection to something greater than yourself, as you experience the sacred in the Great Lakes and the waters that feed them.
1 – All quotes from pp. 229-233 in Blue Mind