Profound, spiritual moments are rare. Many have never had one. And those that have, they are forever changed. I’m a spiritual person and a woman of faith, and my calling to faith was more of a slow, incessant murmur than a loud, significant voice booming in the darkness. So when I experience a moment of yūgen on a mountainside in Utah, I was unprepared and humbled.
I’ve visited Salt Lake City many times, but I’ve never had the opportunity to go hiking on any of the innumerable trails that pepper the area. But, the promise of beautiful weather and a need to stay up with my fitness routine led me to the trails in the afternoons as soon as I was done with work. I’ve been a nature-lover since birth, and I come by it honestly. I come from a long line of women who would rather be outside running barefoot in the autumn-colored hills than inside doing … well, anything. My mother has a reputation for stopping to smell the roses and snag pictures of every frog, bug, foggy sunrise, or bird she happens across on her morning walks. And, when my parents built their home, they made sure it was positioned in such a way that she and my father could watch every single sunset from across the valley. I was taught from an early age to appreciate every moment for its singularity. There may be a million sunsets, and everyone is different in a million little ways.
So, as I hiked up the side of a mountain in the middle of Cottonwood Canyon, I went earbud free to fully appreciate the sights and sounds that surrounded me. I was high above the canyon road where vehicles rumbled by. The sounds of motors faded into the sounds of crickets chirping and chipmunks rustling in the underbrush. Birds of prey circled above in silence, searching for a meal opportunity. I saw my first aspen grove, and I was struck by it’s beauty and interconnectedness. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t capture the beauty and grace of those soft, quaking limbs.
As I descended the mountain, I felt my breath catch in my throat. I felt the heat of tears behind my eyes. I looked out over the vista before me, and I felt something so deep that I couldn’t muster up the words to begin to describe it. Only later did I learn that this feeling beyond description is known in Japanese culture as yūgen. Had it not been nearing sunset, I would have dropped to my knees in awe-filled silence. Instead, I slowed my pace just a bit so I could soak in every moment, every flash of color, every sound that surrounded me, etching it into my memory.
And I prayed. I thanked God for the beauty that surrounded me. The beauty that is all-too-often ignored or overlooked or taken for granted. The beauty that we are all completely unworthy of.
I climbed up the mountain looking for some exercise and sightseeing, and I climbed down the mountain humbled, inspired, and feeling more deeply connected to the world than I ever had before. And I hope this feeling stays with me for some time.