We lean against the metal rail and look down into the abyss. The river is there, a silent blue-green snake slithering among the rocks 5,000 feet below. The stones at the very bottom are black, garnet-studded Vishnu schist, an astounding 1.7 billion years old, the visible “basement” rock of the Grand Canyon and much of Arizona. Vishnu is an apt name. In the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu is one of the great gods, a protecting, preserving and all pervading force.
1.7 billion years. How many of your lifetimes might that be?
The Canyon is an immense opening to the depths, not just of geology or of time, but also metaphorically, of people like us leaning against the rail. You see the dizzying depths, the layers of red and black, dun and putty and milky stone, and the immensity of the fields of air before you, and you know it is very much like looking into a god of some kind. Or at least into the harsh, sacred garden where the energy of a god once emerged from the earth and left a residue of power and presence behind.
There is fear in the comprehension of such size and depth, but perhaps that’s merely because the sight of it opens the reflection of a similar chasm within ourselves. Might some of that power seep through the fissures of our own self-contained world views and rigid identities? Are we permeable enough to really see, or are we still just tourists? At dusk you see this tourism most clearly in the way our cameras flash automatically, assuming the picture is of something a few feet away rather than miles across. Did we get a picture of the real Canyon or only of the darkness where the Canyon once was?
Meanwhile, you may not have noticed fifty elk sliding by through the pines behind you on the other side of the road.
What does this have to do with leadership, you might ask. And you would be right to ask it. What does it have to do with getting people to do things with all their heart? What does it have to do with outcomes, results, and the temporary buzzwords of the contemporary leadership industry: engagement, innovation, meritocracy? Subjects where we want clear and certain examples of success to follow. Subjects we want to see from only a few feet away — rather than acknowledging what actually surrounds them.
You don’t have to stand there long, looking for something in the fading light, light that crosses worn pillars and weathered walls, and cascades to shadows that rise up toward far temples.
As human beings we’re humbled. As spirits we are empowered. Our agency in the world, as individuals, is limited and complex, but needed. There are few answers. The lessons take time, perhaps many lifetimes to learn.
What you can do is breathe out, honoring the possibilities you find within, possibilities that like the Canyon itself, are truly grand.
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