This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while and I feel like now is the perfect time with the holidays upon us. If you’re not religious or spiritual in any capacity that is totally fine, but I would like to share my experiences with various religions and outdoor spaces.
I was raised Roman Catholic and growing up my parents bought my sister and I to church every Sunday. We both received our First Holy Communion, were confirmed and attended Siena College, a Catholic college. Now as an adult who is not forced to go to mass every week anymore, I can say that I appreciate my parents for bringing us up with religion, but I wouldn’t label myself a religious person. There are times I really enjoy going to mass. For instance I always enjoyed going to mass at Siena and I look forward to Holy Week during the Easter season. However, I have found that I am more moved by a higher being or power when I am outside. I don’t believe that you have to be part of a religion or even believe in God to experience some kind of spiritual presence and ease. I have been very open about my struggle with faith but I still try to be a spiritually sound person. I would label myself spiritual over religious because I often feel more connected to a spiritual presence outside of a church or religious structure. That being said, I have explored some pretty interesting religious structures that incorporate an element of the natural world into their design. To me, it seems like the best of both worlds- a beautiful, unique spiritual sanctuary that embraces the beauty of the nature around it.
Whatever you celebrate this holiday season, I hope this post will inspire you to explore some of these places and/or experience your religion or spirituality in a new way.
1. Grafton Peace Pagoda: The Grafton Peace Pagoda is located a short drive from Grafton Lakes State Park which was featured in my last post. The pagoda has ties to the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Buddhism but welcomes visitors of all religions and backgrounds. Peace pagodas are often a symbol of non-violence and tolerance. The Grafton Peace Pagoda is a beautiful and serene place. The first time I visited, I felt an almost immediate sense of calm come over upon my arrival. I took my sweet time lingering around the pagoda and the grounds because I just felt so at ease. The pagoda is an impressive structure and serves as the perfect place to meditate, pray or just enjoy the nature surrounding the pagoda. The pagoda also offers daily prayer services at 5 am and 5:30 pm.
2. The Grotto at Siena College: Of course I love the grotto at Siena. It’s where I went when I freaked out about finals, had to meditate on something or pray for others. In my opinion it is the prettiest part of Siena’s campus. It is a sliver of quiet on a busy college campus that anyone could find beauty and calm in.
3. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist Monastery: This buddhist monastery is located in one of my favorite places ever, Woodstock, NY. Going to the town alone is a special experience but heading up to the monastery is a must do if you’re in the area. It is located right at the trailhead of Overlook Mountain and you’ll know you’re getting close when you see colorful prayer flags strung along the trees like garland. The monastery sits up on a mountain so you get the peace and quiet of a rural setting. The temple itself is immaculate too. The temple is open to the public as a spiritual space or if you just want to look around. It’s vivid interior will leave you in awe as you are surrounded by red walls and gold buddhas. The monks who reside there are extremely friendly too. If you can get to one of the places on this list, this is the one I would make top priority.
4. Community Church in Longo Mai, Costa Rica: Last January I went on a service trip to Costa Rica with Siena. This trip will have it’s own blog post (maybe 2) very soon! We spent half of our week in a rural village, Longo Mai, painting the community’s church. Costa Rica is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been to. The flora and fauna of the country is just stunning and my memories of the country will always reappear as deep greens, splashes of orange and golden sunshine. We painted the church a warm, welcoming yellow to match the vibrancy of the community. The weather in Costa Rica is nearly perfect so the church doesn’t even have glass in the windows, just cross shaped bars. I had an unforgettable time painting the church and spending time with my peers and the Longo Mai residents. Feeling the wind and warmth come through the church kinda made it feel like we were still outside, enjoying the nature around us while we worked. I’m sad I didn’t get to attend a mass in the church, but painting it and spending time there felt like a spiritual experience alone.
Lastly, I have felt some kind of spiritual presence almost every time I’ve been in a beautiful, natural area. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some pretty amazing things from glaciers in Alaska to Costa Rican rainforests to the rolling Tuscan hills of Italy. I’ve also been fortunate enough to live in one of the most magical wilderness areas, the Adirondack Mountains. All of these places are very different but with each experience, I have always felt like there was something bigger than me or anything on earth lingering in that natural space and allowing me to be fully in awe of the delicacy surrounding me.
No matter what you celebrate this time of the year, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. This is a really special time of the year to celebrate with family and friends and I hope everyone feels connected to others during this season.
I don’t believe I will have a post up next week, it’s just too busy of a time but I hope Santa brings y’all some new hiking boots or trekking poles! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza and happy hiking! Until next time.
By: Maria Gigliello, www.thedirtbymaria.com