by Paul Fetler
Although not religious, my mom called Yosemite National Park “God’s Country” on family vacations. Viewing the iconic vistas, of course, it is not difficult to understand why. As a child, I gazed in wonderment at the enormous granite boulders in Yosemite Valley. However, I knew those huge rocks were but pebbles, in relation to the towering mountains above. In suspense, I looked up at rock climbers, appearing tinier than Lilliputians, as they scaled the steep crags. During winter, Half Dome and El Capitan evoked, in my imagination, ominous abodes of Gods, with snowy peaks and misty clouds drifting across.
In contrast with the rugged mountains, rising like giant cathedral towers, the waterfalls cascading down looked graceful like gowns. From a distant view, the vast waters seemed to be flowing silently in slow-motion.
The closer we approached the falls, however, the stronger I knew their power. As a teenager, hiking up the moist stone steps of the Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls, I felt both rejuvenated and humbled. The roaring showers grew increasingly louder, calming my nerves. My self-absorption receded as my body breathed in the misty spray. Approaching the top, the wide falls continued ever pouring down, thick and white. I marveled how minute we humans were, and if I slipped, the rapids would easily absorb and swallow me up.
As refreshing as it is to be near Mother Nature’s mountains and waterfalls, yoga masters from India have long shared that the cleansing joy from intimacy with Spirit is far greater. When first learning how to meditate, I used the suggested technique the master, Paramhansa Yogananda taught, of visualizing a distant mountain peak at the point above between the eyebrows. In addition to imagining the body being steady as a mountain, I discovered the importance of keeping my crown lifted towards the sky.
After years of meditation practice, there are instances I have experienced liquid peace pouring – not only over – but through me. The waves seem to be releasing calcified layers of emotional, mental, and physical tension, as if salt rocks are dissolving into water. As with waterfalls, the qualities can feel wispy and gentle, other times robust and intense.
In India the great rivers, such as the holy Ganga, are worshipped as goddesses. Legend tells that Ganga descended from the heavens, and was caught in Lord Shiva’s matted hair. Standing at the most sacred peak in the Himalayas, Shiva harnessed Ganga’s power so that She wouldn’t drown the earth with Her inexhaustible waters. The goddess became a waterfall, flowing down into the famous river where we, Her earthly children can bathe and purify our negative karma.