Updated: Nov 6, 2022
by Paul Fetler
Although not religious, my mom often 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 would gaze 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 solidity of the rugged mountains, rising like giant cathedral towers, the waterfalls cascading down felt gracefully fluid. From a distant view, the vast waters seemed to be silently flowing in slow-motion.
The closer we approached the waterfalls physically, however, the stronger I could feel their revitalizing power. As a teenager, hiking up the moist stone steps of the Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls, I felt increasingly rejuvenated and humbled. The roaring waters grew louder, meditative to my nervous system, and my body felt exhilaration from the misty spray. Approaching the top, the enormously wide falls continued pouring down, waters thick and white. I marveled how minute we humans were, and if we slipped, how easily we could be absorbed and swallowed up by the rapids.
As refreshing as it is to be near Mother Nature’s mountains and waterfalls, the cleansing joy of intimacy with Spirit I have felt in meditation is far greater. When learning how to practice, 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, it is important to keep the crown lifting, like a mountaintop, towards the sky.
Years later in meditation, there are instances I have felt liquid peace pouring – not only over – but through me. At times, the waves seem to be cleansing calcified layers of emotional, mental, and physical tension, as if salt rocks are dissolving in water. As with waterfalls or fountains, the qualities can feel wispy and gentle, other times robust and intense.
In India the great rivers, such as the holy Ganga, are seen as goddesses. Legend tells that Ganga descended from the heavens, and was carefully 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.