In the middle of the hectic, crazy chaos that is studying for the PE exam, sometimes I need a break for some quasi-meditation. To calm my mind and release a bit of stress and tension, I like to remember the sensations associated with the three most peaceful places I’ve ever been.
The Cornell Plantations are a botanical wonderland for leisurely meditation. They technically consist of 25 acres of botanical gardens and 150 acres of the arboretum, but they are part of a larger associated nature area that covers 4,300 acres. When I lived in Ithaca, I liked to go for a long, easy walk to the Plantations (they were 1-2 miles from where I lived, and entrance is free), and spend time wandering through the woodland areas, across the meadows, or appreciating the well-tended shrub or herb gardens.
But my favorite part of the Plantations, and to me the most peaceful, was the Flowering Shrub and Ornamental Grass Garden. It appealed to my love of nature, but also my sense of order. The wildflower garden was magnificent in its own way, but it was a little too free-spirited for a logic-lover like me.
The meandering, manicured lawns were sheltered by graceful ornamental grasses. Their long fronds brushed together in the gentle breeze and created a quiet whisper that wiped away any thoughts of busy life. In the garden, there is one particular bench where I loved to sit and be silent, observing the calm blue-green grasses balancing the bright sunlit day lilies.
When I sat on that bench, all of my focus was in the moment. I didn’t worry about what exams I had to study for, or what I had to do at my internship, or what my officer responsibilities were in my sorority. All I cared about was soaking up the sunshine, breathing the clean air, and appreciating the beauty of what surrounded me. This was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.
The trek to the top of Piestewa Peak is a more physical form of meditation. The trail requires preparation and endurance, to hike 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of 1,190 feet. With the desert sun beating down on hikers, plenty of water is a critical requirement. Solid hiking shoes and careful attention to detail is required, or you may need to be rescued via helicopter.
For much of the hike, you focus on putting one foot in front of the other and watching for loose stones that could send you tumbling down the side of the mountain, or for rattlesnakes and scorpions that like to shelter themselves from the sun in the shade of rocks. Near the top, the physical exertion increases, as you have to pull yourself up steep steps with railings, over boulders and around sharp corners. The first time I hiked this mountain (which was actually visible from my old office window), I couldn’t make it to the top. I was definitely unprepared and knew it would be unsafe to continue. But eventually I did make it to the top, and it became one of my favorite places in Phoenix.
At the peak, I was always amazed at how quiet it was. While you could still hear the soft hum of the highway traffic in the distance, the nitty gritty of the city was left in the dust. Literally – the top of the mountain is high enough that it rises above the dust and the pollution that often settles in the flat-bottomed valley of the Phoenix metro area. The air was clear and you could see for miles in every direction.
When I was at the peak, I had no other care in the world. I was done with work for the day, I certainly couldn’t be doing any homework or studying for my master’s degree while I was at the top of a craggy mountaintop. I had the endorphins from serious physical exertion, and the happiness of knowing that the way down the mountain would be much easier. The calm and quiet at the top of the mountain, coupled with the satisfaction of reaching the top and the panoramic views of Phoenix make this one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.
1. Shipwreck Beach Bar and Grill
The most recent addition to my ‘list of peaceful places’ is the beach in St. Kitts. Until last October, I had no idea this place even existed, but it has been in the forefront of my mind ever since.
My time on St. Kitts was glorious for one reason in particular – I felt like I was on an island outside of time. I had no idea what time it was during my entire visit to the island, and there was no reason for me to know. Other than a few appointments for horseback riding or for my spa massage, everything happened at a leisurely pace. I ate when I got hungry, we spent countless hours at the beach or driving around the island, and I spent significant time just observing, sketching in my sketchbook, or doing nothing at all.
That last item – doing nothing at all – was my favorite part. When we were at Shipwreck, I drank fruity tropical drinks, laid in the lounge chair soaking up the sun, and occasionally went in the water to cool off. The water was perfectly warm (after growing up in New England, I always expect ocean/sea water to be cold!), so that when I floated on my back it barely felt like there was anything supporting me at all.
I floated weightlessly in the Caribbean water, and the waves pushing me back and forth in a rhythmic pattern were the only semblance of time I had. With my ears beneath the water surface, I was sure I was listening to the sound of the Earth itself, the slow pulse of the current echoing the beating of a heart. I was a part of all of it – barely immersed on the surface of a vast body of water thousands of times deeper than I could comprehend, but slightly immersed nonetheless. I was miniscule, tiny, insignificant, but part of something massive and ancient. This was the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.
- #21: Cornell University (wanderoneday.com)
- Meditation Monday (It’s Magic!) (backrowthoughts.wordpress.com)