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Writing about a Pagan take on Las Vegas and the Colorado
Plateau has turned into a vastly bigger undertaking than I initially
imagined. Bigger than a single blog
post – but really clarifying in helping me get a better grasp on what is good
and not so good about the modern world, and why.
So I’ll hit one point at a time in my posts on it.
After leaving my traveling companions at Las Vegas’s
airport, I turned and drove home to California. As soon as I entered open country I experienced a
wonderful release of pressure and
a sense of clear, clean energy. A ‘stickiness’ that I had almost ceased to notice disappeared. The contrast with the feel of the city was very powerful. The lower Nevada desert is far from my
favorite landscape, and I believe what I experienced was much more than simply
an aesthetic shift.
In a few earlier posts I have described how people can learn
to see and to feel the energy fields that pervade everything. Building on that post, I think Gary Snyder’s insight is on
target: the spirit of place is the total of all the energy fields that comprise
an area. This holds from a human
being or a garden to a city or a landscape.
We evolved in nature, deeply immersed in complex networks of
relationships not just in the ways Western science has already discovered, such
as ecologies, but also in subtle energy networks that science has not yet
discovered. By contrast, while a
city can have very complex human fields, it’s natural fields are far
I imagine no city in the country is more artificial than Las
Vegas, where the business that makes the city tick takes place in huge
windowless casinos designed to remove people as far as possible from their
normal lives. It is very long on
visual distractions, constant activity, and endless stimulation. In this sense
Vegas is an extreme case of an impoverished subtle environment of simplified or
disrupted energy fields. I think this reality characterizes at least all
relatively new cities, although older ones eventually become integrated into the larger context which surrounds them.
It turns out there is scientific evidence that
supports my hunch, although it does not prove it because alternative
explanations might also be possible.
Access to nature turns out to be quite important for human health. Still another study shows, as Peter Stanford wrote
that being in a green environment is better than being in an
urban one in terms of a measurable positive effect on blood pressure, hormones
and stress levels. Intriguingly, it also concludes that the biggest beneficial
boost from exposure to nature is gained within the initial five minutes of each
encounter with the great outdoors. While it continues to reap a harvest
thereafter, the crop of positives diminishes.
Perhaps most interesting of all was a study indicating
that the degree of biodiversity was positively related with mental health in
ways that have been measured. A lawn has a better impact on us
than a parking lot, a park more than a lawn, and a complex natural community
more than the simplified biodiversity in a park.
The shift from Las Vegas to the open desert was a
shift from one energy field to another, and many people I suspect can feel it
without being quite sure what is going on.
In retrospect the same kind of shift happened when we
entered into the city. After nine
days amid the canyons, arches,
mesas, and cliffs of southern Utah, we entered a world of tall buildings, dense
traffic, and intense visual stimulation that was initially a bit
overwhelming. But it seemed then
to simply be the transition to hustle and bustle. After leaving the city I think something much more profound
and interesting was manifesting both upon entering and leaving.