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Deeper and Deeper…

I recently went on a day trip to a place called the Longhorn Caverns State Park. They are a series of caverns created by thousands of years of dissolving and cutting by water into limestone bedrock. They extend for miles underground and are available to walk through as a service of the state park system.

As I wandered through these sometimes grand, sometimes tiny pockets of space beneath the earth’s shell, I was reminded of the deeper part of mind, the subconscious, that often exists without our awareness of it above the surface.

Amazing Natural Wonder

Opening up to a space that resembled a medium sized theatre, with vaulted ceilings and stalagmite and stalactite embellishments , it was difficult to realize that an hour before we had been traipsing over-top without realizing that this world existed below. Not only were there several large vestibules but also lengths of passages, travelling up, down and on the level. There were ‘sculptures’ created by elemental shifts over centuries, and there were residents (mostly bats) who lived within this climate controlled structure.

How does this natural wonder compare to the one in our mind? Our subconscious is a mysterious part of mind, which, on the surface, may not be discovered, but still exists as an amazing and powerful place. Our subconscious holds monuments carved by past experiences, words, emotions and people that remain as evidence to our life. While some of them may be beautiful, others may block clear passage from one part of the ‘cavern’ to another. The links of the cavern is reminiscent of the mind – usually cut through the softest part of us, not necessarily the most direct. And so associations may not be as logical as we might prefer. Sometimes we take up residences of thought, feelings or behaviours that may not be supporting the construct yet they linger as occupants, affecting our lives in the present.

Amazing Human Undertaking

While the natural wonder of the caverns is visible to the eye, the human contribution needs to be mentioned. During the depression in North America, a program was instituted by President Roosevelt called the “New Deal” which used the unemployed workforce of the US to construct large infrastructural projects and establish trails and National as well as State Parks. The caverns, at that time, had caved in entrances blocked by metres/yards of stones, rocks and boulders. Over a period of years a group of men cleared the entrances, shored up dangerous cavern areas and constructed stone-lined paths to and from the natural wonder.

As we wandered through the park I wondered what it would have been like to be part of this construction crew. It would have been hard labour, no doubt, but I wonder what these men were thinking – whether they looked at the stones as exchange for their next meal, or whether they imagined what the final product would be like – a place to connect humans with nature in its magnificence? I suppose the result is the same – the cavern park was constructed – but would the journey have been different for those who thought differently?

I think about the times when I have walked through life looking at my metaphorical shoes, considering only the next step in front of me. At other times, my steps have been seen as a part of a greater journey. Does it change the way I looked at it? Yes. Is one better than the other? I would suppose it would depend on the individual and the path.

Underground, we all have history

The Longhorn Caverns have had an interesting human history (besides its most recent incarnation). Hundreds of years ago, it was used as a Comanche settlement. Later it was used as a Confederate stronghold where gunpowder was manufactured in secret. It was also rumoured to have been a hideout for Texas outlaw, Sam Bass, as well as a speakeasy bar during prohibition. Neat for an underground space…

In the subconscious we also carry our history with us even now. Our past roles and interactions still exist in our minds. How we relate this history in our present makes the difference between having a full-time job of hiding the skeletons in our underground closets or coming to peace with the foibles, errors, mishaps and experiences of times gone by. We are a collection of our past events but we needn’t be victims of what went before. We can learn from hindsight and with compassion we can find lessons to better live in the present.

By the way, now you can listen to chamber orchestras play in the caverns – who knew that the space created impeccable acoustics?

Awe-inspiring but fragile

What do the caverns and our subconscious minds have in common? That they are splendid yet sensitive, extensive yet elemental, unseen yet easy to unearth when you know how.

I believe it is the juxtaposition of power and vulnerability that makes this natural formation an attraction, and what makes the subconscious mind a place of such interest for inner exploration.

If you happen to be in central Texas, I’d strongly suggest you make a trip to the Longhorn Caverns. If you’re not, you can see some pictures of it at http://www.longhorncaverns.com/

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