Ten Places to Spark Reflection and Wonder
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Whether you’re drawn to the bright lights of a big city, the quiet of a redwood forest or dusty back roads, traveling mindfully can be as easy as engaging one’s senses. Here are ten awe-inspiring places to get you thinking more deeply about your past, present and future:
Chagall’s America Windows, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois: Designed specifically for the Art Institute of Chicago’s commemoration of the nation’s bicentennial, Marc Chagall created this spectacular six-panel, stained glass work celebrating the America’s commitment to cultural and religious freedom. The stained glass windows draw viewers in with their vibrant colors, and then hold hearts and minds captive with their numinous blue glow in a joyous visual homage to dance, literature, music, painting, and theatre. Unveiled in May 1977, the mesmerizing Chagall Windows were popularized by the 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, starring Matthew Broderick.
Meditation Themes: The power of light, color and the arts to uplift and heal.
- Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: A turning point in America’s Civil War, Gettysburg was the nation’s bloodiest battle. A staggering 51,000 combatants were cut down by cannons, long rifles and hand-to-hand struggles during the opening days of July 1863 as the Union’s Army of the Potomac ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s attempted invasion of the North. The fierce fighting turned the surrounding Pennsylvania farmlands and forests into graveyards – and the private homes and churches into hospitals for those who were severely wounded. More than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers passed through Camp Letterman General Hospital alone before receiving advanced care at hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. So numerous were the dead that transfers to the Union cemetery continued even after the cemetery’s November 1863 dedication at which President Abraham Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address.
Meditation Theme: “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” – President Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.: Designed by Henry Bacon, this shrine to America’s hard earned freedom stands nearly 100 feet high. Each of its 36, Greek-inspired, soaring Doric columns represents one of the states which made up the Union at the time of the assassination of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Two additional columns are located at the entrance behind the colonnade. The seated figure of President Lincoln – a 19-foot-high, 175-ton colossus birthed by sculptor Daniel Chester French – is shown deep in contemplation, evoking reverence for the man and his ideals. No heart can ever be too hardened to be moved by his Gettysburg or Second Inaugural addresses which are inscribed on the memorial’s north and south chamber walls. A moving tribute during the daytime, the Lincoln Memorial is at its most unforgettable when viewed at night.
Meditation Themes: Tolerance, compassion, and profound gratitude for those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
- Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, California: Within a few steps past the entrance to Muir Woods, the world slips away – a burbling brook or snap of a twig often the only sounds heard en route to the Bicentennial Tree in the Bohemian Grove. This is the forest primeval – a preserve of Sequoia sempervirens more commonly known as coast redwoods – the tallest living entities in the world. Declared a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, this San Francisco Bay Area sanctuary was described by famed naturalist John Muir as “the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” Travel to the park during the peak summer tourist season is made more convenient thanks to the Muir Woods Shuttle.
Meditation Themes: Timelessness and serenity.
- The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian is simply unparalleled in its capacity to deliver sheer, holy-cow-scale moments of awe. Whether you’re entranced by jaw-dropping diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and other gemstones, life-sized models of whales, or the mysteries of human flight, the Smithsonian is a bucket list must-do. The 23 galleries of the National Air and Space Museum alone are home to the 1903 Wright Flyer (Orville and Wilbur’s airplane), Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Friendship 7 capsule in which John Glenn first orbited the Earth, the Apollo 11 command module which transported the first men to walk on the moon, spacesuits worn by men while walking on the moon, and a touchable moon rock – all proof that achieving the impossible really is possible.
Meditation Theme: The human capacity for greatness.
Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts: On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began a two-year experiment with living simply in nature – an experiment which continues to stir the tree hugger in all of us. His mindful walks took him around Walden Pond, through forests, and even into nearby Concord to visit Ralph Waldo Emerson and other friends. He also gardened, read, made the first accurate survey of the area’s rich ecosystem – and courted his writing muse. Today, with Sunset Saunters, Story Time at the Beach and a visit to the replica of Thoreau’s humble, one-room cabin, Walden Pond is still the natural choice for individuals and families to find peaceful moments away from life’s daily pressures. Chipmunks skitter from plant life along easily accessible trails as red-tailed hawks, blackbirds and kingfishers soar above 460 acres of open space – all while small-mouth bass splash in the pond’s sparkling, sun-kissed waters.
Meditation Theme: “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that will suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
Bonneville Salt Flats and Great Salt Lake, Utah: Located to the west of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the Bonneville Salt Flats are perhaps most familiar to Americans as the home of the Bonneville Speedway – “the Fastest Racetrack on Earth.” Land speed records have been set and broken here since the late 1890s, including those set during the 1960s by Craig Breedlove in his jet-propelled car, the Spirit of America, and by New Zealand motorcycle racer, Burt Munro, whose career was profiled in the 2005 film, The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins. But the area is about so much more than speed. A fragile ecosystem comprised of numerous micro-environments, some barren, some teeming with life, certain areas in and around the flats can be very harsh and isolated; some are strictly off limits to “invasive humans.” So do your homework thoroughly before venturing forth. As for the Great Salt Lake itself, it was termed “one of the great views on the American continent” by John Muir. America’s largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River, it is roughly 75 miles long and 35 miles wide – and is what remains of Lake Bonneville, an ice age-era body of water formed more than 30,000 years ago. Bridger Bay Beach on Antelope Island offers spectacular white oolitic (lime) sands and a great place to stroll mindfully or dip one’s toes in the salty water. And because it’s nearly impossible to sink due to the lake’s high saline content, floating is also a popular way to ponder life’s imponderables.
Meditation Theme: Solitude and self-reliance; the buoyancy and resilience of the human spirit.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula, Michigan: Winding along roughly 40 miles of Lake Superior’s south shoreline between the communities of Munising (west) and Grand Marais (east), America’s first National Lakeshore offers travelers dramatic, colorful views from sandstone cliffs, pensive moments sparked by glistening waterfalls and rolling sand dunes, a late 1800s-era lighthouse for exploration, and more than 100 miles of pristine beaches, perfect for meandering mindfully. Drive-in and backcountry campgrounds are available inside the park. Restaurants and hotels are located in nearby Munising and Grand Marais.
Meditation Theme: Mother Nature as artist.
- Reflecting Pool, The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ Scientist, Boston, Massachusetts: Many a pleasant summer afternoon has been spent by visitors relaxing beneath the linden trees along Huntington Avenue and enjoying the serenity of the 670-foot-long reflecting pool while their little ones frolic in the children’s fountain at the world headquarters for the Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston. Designed in 1972 by I.M. Pei & Partners and Araldo Cossutta, Associated Architects, the Plaza area is bordered by Reflection Hall, the original Mother Church, and a Byzantine dome-topped Mother Church extension. Free tours of the Mother Church, a massive Romanesque structure designed by architect Franklin I. Welch and completed in 1894, showcase stunning opalescent stained glass windows, Canadian red birch woodwork, frescoes of Italian artisans, mosaics, white Italian marble floors, and an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ – one of the largest in the world. Open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays).
Meditation Themes: Art, beauty and the creative mind.
Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts: “What a glorious morning for America!” So said Samuel Adams to John Hancock on April 19, 1775, following the opening skirmish of the American Revolution. Eight Minutemen lost their lives, and another ten out of the seventy-seven who had turned out to face the British were wounded. The remains of the eight who died on the day of “the shot heard round the world” were interred beneath the Revolutionary Monument, the nation’s oldest war memorial (erected on the Battle Green July 4, 1799). Henry H. Kitson’s Minuteman Statue, a life-sized bronze depicting a colonial farmer with musket, has been standing guard over the Green at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Bedford Street since 1900. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to experience the Battle Green and other historic sites in Lexington and its neighbor, Concord, is the Liberty Ride, a 90-minute narrated trolley tour which enables visitors to hop on and off easily in order to explore Bush (the home of transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson); visit Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott’s home), Minute Man National Historical Park and the taverns which served as the military headquarters for the Americans and the British; or check out Paul Revere’s lantern, Henry David Thoreau’s writing desk and Emerson’s study at the Concord Museum.
Meditation Theme: Gratitude.