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Feb 16
Dharma Teachings
Drala in the Grand Canyon

Laura McNulty practices on the bank of the Colorado River while a friend-in-the-making fishes in the background

Laura McNulty practices on the bank of the Colorado River while a friend-in-the-making fishes in the background

Last November, for the first time, a Drala program was held during a week-long backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. What follows are my reflections on this unforgettable experience.

The Drala Principle and the Grand Canyon share a vastness that is beyond words. As we near the rim and I catch my first view, I am humbled by the scale of what is before me. How do you take in such an expanse of towering rocks and bottomless space in every direction? My system searches for a new gear to shift into by which I might process and contain this experience. There is no reference point available.

Where are we going?

How long will it take?

Am I moving fast enough?

 Do I have what I need? 

The same questions seem to follow us wherever we go.

Gail McDonald and Laura McNulty hiking in Monument Creek Canyon

Gail McDonald and Laura McNulty hiking in Monument Creek Canyon

Yet, the starkness of this terrain has other questions to ask. Again and again, my attention is pulled back to the multitude of shifting rocks underfoot, the sweat trickling down my back and the cold wind on my face. As we make our steep descent down seven miles of rough, rocky trail, I struggle to balance my pack while finding my footing. The trekking poles that were kindly placed in my hands at the trailhead help me to make more contact with the ground. I begin to find some pleasure in the fluidity of the swinging poles in my hands. The trick seems to be to keep the hands relaxed and the wrists loose.

I have backpacking companions who also help to remind me of where I am.  Ahead of me are regular cries of excitement at the discovery of the ever-changing strata of rock in our midst, at the sighting of a condor overhead or at the tiny fossils of worm holes from thousands of years before.

How much we learn as we move through this landscape – a landscape that never ceases to remind us of our proper size. Staying open to the unexpected elements that continually present themselves is a practice of humility in action. After a few days, I am able to stop looking so hard for references and allow myself to be where I am. On a rock. In three layers of clothing in my sleeping bag. In an open-sky latrine craning my neck to gaze at the full moon. At a cliff’s edge scanning for ground.

I am staring out into darkness as we do our evening chants barely able to perceive the forms of my friends in front of me. I am scaling the wall of a narrow chasm, cold wet stone under the palms of my hands. I am noticing the texture of my fear as countless mice scurry around our candle-lit stillness.

Shastri Chuck Whetsell ascending

Shastri Chuck Whetsell ascending

There is a natural momentum and balance that we find and shape together. Daily routine and necessity carry us forward. The simple joy of sharing a carefully prepared meal after a day of hiking is like no other. What else could one need? At least for this moment, we have the good fortune of knowing this. There is the heat from the bowl of miso soup to warm the hands, the warm tasty liquid to fill the stomach, the perfect rock to sit upon. There is the learning to work side by side, with fewer and fewer words, filling in where there is a need, leaving space where there is not. There is time to sit in silence, there is time to exchange stories, there is time to rest alone.

From my teacher, I learn mostly by just being in his presence. His gentleness and constancy stabilize me as I encounter my familiar fears of being ill equipped. His curiosity and delight in whatever the moment presents teach me that there is room for it all. His humility gives me permission to relax.

I have many opportunities too to watch and wonder at how each one of us has their own way of walking, of looking, of knowing. I try to tune into and trust the ways that soundlessly come to me. Though at moments I feel lost in the immensity of this place, at others, I realize that I keep being found. I begin to see that I am perhaps equipped to take it in as long as I continue to open and engage. I am a student in this canyon learning only as I go. Just do the next necessary thing. Feel the ground with each step, eat trail mix, sling an arm over a new friend, notice the position of the sun in the sky. It is vast beyond words but maybe not so complicated after all. It helps too to hear the wind and the rhythm of the footsteps in front of and behind me. I am grateful to be a part of this.


For more information about upcoming programs in the Grand Canyon, please contact: Shastri Chuck Whetsell at [email protected]



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1 response to “ Drala in the Grand Canyon ”
  1. Marni Presnall
    Feb 20, 2013

    love love love

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