Spirituality found outside the church | AspenTimes.com

Spirituality found outside the church

Ron Rash
Aspen, CO Colorado

I’m sitting in the tub listening to a David Gray CD. The last CD was one by Joni Mitchell, the one after Gray is Lucinda Williams, and the razor blades on the shelf are starting to look more than inviting. You could stay my out­look is less than perky, maybe even a little downcast.

I’ve been told one can find relief for one’s sunken spirit in the wilderness. Or, as some of my friends say, “I don’t go to church; my church is in the mountains.”

What exactly does that mean?

There are five key ingredients for spirituality that one may discover in the mountains, although most of the time, all five are not found in your outings.

The five may be listed in any order. I’m going to start with solitude.

Let’s disregard the safety issue of backcountry solo adventures just for this exercise. Going for a solo hike, depending on the length, may give one time to ponder his or her existence on earth ” which also happens to be the sec­ond component of spirituality.

You may ask, “What does my life mean, or what is my place in this life?”

Having the time to push through physical discomfort in the mountains may help in the process of personal enlight­ment. Along hike may do it, and fasting may speed up the process. Biblical prophets used both fasting and exercise for extended periods in the wilderness to seemingly great suc­cess in their path towards spiritual enlightment.

The magnificence of the natural world itself is another component on the list, regardless of your personal beliefs.

The last one is silence ” which may be the most difficult one to achieve. You don’t need someone chatting away with you when you’re trying to find the right state of mind in the mountains.

Well, there you have all five: solitude, silence, physical stress of some sort, the incredible natural world and adequate time for reflection.

With this list you may discover how much you like your­self. Personally, sometimes I struggle with just that.

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Challenge Aspen, which brought soldiers to the valley who have been involved in armed conflicts in various parts of the world. These men come back home very different than when they left, and are facing the rest of their lives with physical challenges that I can hardly imagine.

I was teaching rock climbing, hoping that some sort of spiritual connection with the mountains would shine through. It was a considerable wish, considering we were only teaching rock climbing in a short period of time.

A constant question I was asking myself was how hard I should try to push these men. It was a question I never could answer; rather one that I decided to allow them to answer themselves. As far as I was concerned, they all pushed them­selves beyond what I thought was possible considering what they have been through.

One of the young men was blown up just this March, leaving parts of his body half a world away. This week he was crawling up a crag on Independence Pass for no other reason than to see if he could physically and emotionally do it.

I simply watched in awe.

I have to admit the huge grins on these men, along with those of the friends and relatives who came with them, made the week of teaching rock climbing the most satisfying week of the entire summer.

Many of the men came directly from Walter Reed Hospi­tal, and most will be returning right back there. I hope this past week gives them something to hold onto for a long time. Many past participants of Challenge Aspen have found the mountains and the lifestyle so inspiring that they have relo­cated out West.

Some may argue that the spiritual connection concerning wilderness environments is not true spirituality in the strictest sense. I would disagree on many levels, and point to this past week with Challenge Aspen as one example of changes made in people’s lives. The inner-city kids who come for the Aspen Youth Experience would be another. In my opinion, both are very spiritual experiences.

After this past week it’s time to turn off David Gray for a long time.


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