With Earth Day approaching, I contemplate my relationship with the earth. We are of the earth, and when we die, we once again become the earth.
Earth is not just soil, but it is everything in nature that is solid. Earth forms solid structures, such as bones and flesh. The most basic example is in a stone. Stones are pretty stable and highly resistant to movement or change.
We may bring more Earth awareness into our yoga practice when we focus on grounding, building a firm base of support, and connecting with the earth beneath us.
In balancing postures like tree (vrksasana), our stability is grounded through deepening our connection with the earth as we reach our imaginary roots deep into it, really touching it. Let the natural expression of the earth rise up through your body. And then, from that groundedness, begin to move, and to grow, just as a tree grows taller by first extending its roots.
The Earth Element is represented in the 1st/Root Chakra of the body. In Sanskrit it is known as Prithvi. The Seven Chakras are the centers in our bodies in which energy flows through.
The Root Chakra is predominantly associated with stability, physicality, and gravity. It is a desire to have things remain as they are, safe and secure.
Signs of being out of balance in this area are said to include disconnection from the body, body weight or weight perception issues, fear, anxiety, restlessness, poor focus and discipline, financial or boundary issues, chronic disorganization, superficiality, laziness, indifference, irregularity, timidity, and scornfulness.
When this root chakra is grounded and balanced, you will exhibit positive qualities like perseverance, consistency, punctuality, caution, responsibility, carefulness, firmness, reliability, sobriety, ambition, and respectfulness.
When I reflect on the specific qualities of perseverance, caution, carefulness, sobriety, ambition, and respectfulness, I reminded of my trek along the Trans-Catalina Trail, a rocky island 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, California. The island is 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its greatest width.
In early June of 2014, my brother, Lawrence, and I took the ferry across to Two Harbors to begin our backwards 4-day, 50 mile hike through this intense rocky earth. We were prepared with our backpacks, tent, water, permits, sleeping bags, etc.
There’s nothing like a heavy back pack to help you feel grounded and close to the earth. Although I had hiked many times in these Merrell Boots, this extra weight burdened my feet into swelling blisters.
After a fairly easy 7 mile climb to Parson’s Landing on the east end, we pitched our tent in a semi-private cove, and released some of our weight. We wanted to complete the full trail, so we set out for 5 miles to Starlight beach, at the easternmost point of the island. We were exhausted, but ecstatic to finally reach that point and the starlight name almost became our reality as the sun was falling closer to the horizon line out in front of us.
I thought to myself, “hmm, we haven’t seen much wildlife yet”…I remember reading on our permits, “Please note that wildlife on Catalina Island, as in all wild-lands, can cause serious injury and even death. Please do not approach or harass wildlife and always maintain a safe distance.”
We decided not to stay here very long, as we turned around and began climbing up the mountain again.
I looked up at the long trail ahead and saw something large and dark brown trotting down towards us on this narrow trail!
We stopped and studied this blob for a moment, then I remembered more about what I read Catalina Island: American Bison were brought to the island in 1924 for the filming of a western movie. Due to budgeting issues, they were never returned. Now there are 150 Catalina Bison…They can be encountered on all parts of the Trail east of the Isthmus. If you encounter bison, move slowly and steadily around them, keeping at least 150 feet away.
Caution aroused from my Root Chakra.
We must keep 150 feet away from him, but where can we go? I looked to the left and only saw the cliff that jetted down to the ocean. To the right was intense shrubbery and we certainly didn’t want to head backwards as night was approaching us and we needed to return to the tent.
Fear instantly flooded my nervous system. These must be the creatures that can cause serious injury and even death. It’s huge!
Ambition, from my 1st Chakra, allowed me to think again with more sobriety and responsibility. I quickly ordered us to climb up this low shrub-like tree to our left. Although floating about 8 feet above ground, there was a sense of stability in this position.
We patiently waited.
The sky turned from yellow to orange, pink to purple…
Perhaps 15 minutes has already passed. I sent my brother down, with both of my hiking sticks as protection, to investigate the bison’s whereabouts while I took a moment to think more clearly about option B.
“I don’t see him!” he exclaimed.
...And finally our guiding light vanished and deep indigo crawled across the sky from east to west.
We took out our head lamps, turned them on, and braced ourselves with perseverance to return to our shelter at Parson’s Landing. Carrying one hiking pole and one large branch in each hand, and we pushed through the darkness, jetting our head back and forth in each direction to stay alert to any immediate danger that may pop up in the dark.
To our surprise, most of the creatures on Catalina Island are nocturnal.
I heard the screech of a bald eagle and rustling throughout the shrubs.
At one point, I turned my head to the right and saw at least 10 pairs of hovering glowing spheres. Eye balls!!! To this day, I’m still not certain if they were eyes of deer, wolves, or the newly feared, bison!
We didn’t let this stop us, The eyes didn’t move, so it was not an immediate threat.
The surge of energy in an unknown situation is surprising. I no longer felt the aches of my blisters and shoulders. We became alive with courage and kept our senses alert for these last 4 miles up and down these ridges to the campsite.
We arrived safely and sleep intensely.
After another 2 days and 25 miles of natural beauty back through Two Harbors, and past the Airport in the Sky, we turned around a narrow corner of a windy trail and found ourselves yet again in the way of the bison; this time only about 25 feet away. There were two and they were not happy to be woken up from their afternoon nap as they abruptly rose to their feet and grunted.
Lawrence and I slowly took steps backwards as we felt that surge of blood speedily rushing through our cautious system.
I motioned for us to split up and head in opposite directions to see if there were more sleeping nearby or if we could find a trail to know which direction to veer off of this trail.
Lawrence climbed the hill to be surprised by one of those bison climbing up towards him.
We decided to veer out to the left, through some tall shrubs and we finally met up with the trail again. With our senses turned on full high, we hiked another 2 miles to the Black Jack Campground.
This was one of the most eerie campsites I have ever seen. It was supposed to be the peak of tourist season, but there was neither a soul nor tent in sight. Our only company was the warning of fresh bison dung at the entrance.
We were tired and I was far from surrendering to the possibility of being trampled over by bison in my sleep, so I suggested that we set our tent on top of the solid oval metal picnic table in the center of the campground. Now, we were 3-4 feet above ground. This felt secure, firm and reliable enough to allow my mind to rest and my body to sleep.
Unfortunately, Lawrence was not as much at rest. He heard constant sounds throughout the night, including the scratching sound against the tent. He woke me up as it sounded like a creature was trying to claw its way in. I listened for a few minutes and then saw the loose strap and adjusted it.
In the morning, he expressed his anxiety as he watched 2 Island foxes wrestle, several deer meander through, and the most frightening, 2 people walking through. With the sound of the outhouse doors screeching open and closed with the breeze, he thought we were in a setting for a horror film to unwind. Dwelling on fear with no action leaves us in an imbalanced state with our root chakra: fear, anxiety, restlessness, and poor focus.
Fortunatly, we remained safe throughout the night and rose with the morning light to finish the last day, 15 miles of our journey.
That day, we passed 7 more buffalo on 3 different occurrences. However, now we were stronger and more grounded. We used courage and carefulness to walk responsibly around them and make it Avalon with an hour to spare, before we jumped back onto the ferry and fell asleep from exhaustion!
Did I mention the breathtaking beauty of the Island?
What an adventure!
It was well worth the struggle to find the consistency and ambition of power within ourselves as we felt firm and grounded on this solid Earth.