By Chantelle Pence.
It’s about the land. The rocks. The trees that stand tall and straight beneath the towering cliffside. I felt the sacred quality of the place that sits at the base of the mountains, beyond the town of Crestone. The steady hum of North Crestone Creek was audible. I paused for a moment, not sure if I was hearing water or wind. My senses knew it was the stream talking, because of the feel of the air around me. Cool. Sweet. But it took a second for my mind to label it.
The Sacred Land Sanctuary is a sensory experience. It’s a place to be with the large stones that have held the weight of ancient humans, and other beings, for a period of time unknown. Dozens of “sitting stones” dot the property, which is stewarded by John Milton, a visionary who brought about a rare example of a land preservation project headed by a private, non-Native individual. The preserve spans an area of over 200 acres, with a goal to encompass up to 500 acres. The land is sought out by people who come to Crestone on retreat. But is perhaps an overlooked, or unknown, asset to new residents.
The land is pristine. A gift to many. John originally intended to create an eco-village at the site, along with a handful of other individuals who invested in the first 35 acres. The idea was to create a community that could be a model for living in alignment with nature. But John was shown a different purpose when he spent time in quiet communion with the land.
“I was pulled to a big stone. I looked at the rock and it was clearly designed as a place to sit. I sat and felt something awaken in me,” he said. In less than 24 hours, he was guided to roughly 80 different stone seats. He received what he describes as a download of heart wisdom, and determined that the land should be preserved as a place to help people rediscover how to come into sacred relationship with themselves and all of life. The ecovillage project was redirected into a land preservation project.
The land, like its steward, feels like a true elder. Non-assuming. Powerful. I sat on the porch of an old cabin that was built before John acquired the property and listened carefully to hear the story that he told quietly. His personal achievements are many, including mastery in the art and discipline of t’ai chi, authoring many books, teaching, and leading environmental movements. From my vantage point on the old cabin porch, it seemed the greatest legacy is the land that befriended him and asked to be protected for the future generations. It’s no small thing to hear nature speak. All of the training and work that John had done, prior to coming to Crestone, primed him for the undertaking.
“I’ve never once felt like I’m not on my path,” he said. At the age of four, John suggested the idea of going out in nature by himself, but his family said he was too young. He tried again at age five. Then six. Finally, at the age of seven he was allowed to go out into the forest on the family farm, without supervision. That was his first official vision quest, although at the time he didn’t call it that. It was just a compulsion to be alone with nature. He has since coined the term “all one” with nature, as opposed to the idea of being “alone” with nature. “Our bodies and spirits carry ancient wisdom. Going on retreat in nature is a pathway to reindiginze self. It is an antidote to deep depression and anger.”
During the course of our conversation, a man and his dog wandered onto the Sacred Land Sanctuary, wanting to get water from the creek. He inquired about the place. “What is this?” he asked, gesturing to where we were sitting. “It’s an old cabin.” John said, with friendliness. To explain the whole place takes some doing. It begins with conveying the necessity of approaching the space with a certain amount of reverence.
Before I made a visit to the land, with the cool air and the encoded stones, John advised me that it is a special place for pilgrimage. “Come in stillness, with an open heart. It’s good to come in that spirit.”
While many outsiders come to Crestone for retreat, John wants it to be known that residents might also benefit from spending time on the land with the stone meditation seats. “It’s not for everybody,” he said. But he believes that for those who are ready, the land can purify and transform blockages.
The cost for utilizing the Sanctuary land is relatively low, compared to many retreat offerings, and locals can receive a discount depending on the situation. There are also some volunteer opportunities for those willing. The Cloud Station coffee shop serves as John’s office, and he is willing to talk with anyone when he is out and about.
Inquiries can also be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found at wayofnature.com.