Sanctuaries in the wilderness

Sanctuaries in the Wilderness
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A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of three successful books, including Sacred Mountains: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Meanings, DR ADRIAN COOPER has been fascinated with wildlife and conservation since early childhood. Here he recounts some of the experiences of pilgrims traveling to wilderness environments, and how it helps them to grow naturally.


Wilderness environments have fed the human imagination since the dawn of history. Today, mountains, forests, mangroves and other challenging natural places are the focus for pilgrimage journeys for increasing numbers of people from all over the world. While traditional pilgrimage destinations such as Rome or Jerusalem may not always satisfy a pilgrim’s search for solitude and sanctuary, mountains and forests often do so in glorious abundance, with many surprises along the way.

Traditionally, sanctuaries have been thought of as simply places of reflection, meditation and prayer. However, in remote natural environments, that is only part of the story. On a mountain slope or deep in a forest, for example, pilgrims learn that rational knowledge of their new sanctuary is never enough. There is a need to seek more.

As humankind finds its way through this bewildering new millennium, the greatest challenge facing each individual is to find ways of becoming spiritually reconciled to the sacred inspirations within this planet’s last remaining wilderness environments.

For Harriot, a teacher from Seattle, Washington, her wilderness sanctuaries are most frequently discovered on Mount McKinley, often known by its Native American name of Denali. It is the highest peak in North America, and one of the most isolated mountains on Earth:
“I love to go hiking on Denali… I can tell you that it is my one and only true sanctuary. It’s where I go to find my deepest meditations; I can pray there like no other place. And it’s where I feel I can grow in the most natural and organic way.”

George, a software designer from London, UK, shares a very similar experience:
“Walking in the Scottish Highlands is my true sanctuary. It distances me physically and emotionally from all the hassle and hypocrisy of modern living. Out there I can breathe and feel restored. It’s a sanctuary that I crave for, and which I need in my deepest soul.”

There are also times when pilgrims reconcile their spiritual search with a personal scientific quest to understand local ecosystems, and to align them within their pilgrimage. This type of reconciliation between the spiritual and scientific aspects of wilderness sanctuaries is clearly described by Lucille, an artist from Rouen, France:
“For me, and a lot of my family and friends, there can never be a limit put on spiritual growth. We must always grow in any way we can. I love to learn about wildlife. I keep my own journal, which combines my mystical experiences with my notes about counting birds or sketching the grasses and other plants.”

In all these ways, wilderness environments offer pilgrims life-changing lessons in the sanctuaries they discovered. Consequently, these extraordinary individuals have learned to become more than who they were before their journeys began.



Article by DR ADRIAN COOPER


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COLLECTORS' EDITION 2018