In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown provides early on reminders of some of the key tenets from her previous books and provides her own definition of spirituality:
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” (P. 34)
Later, while Brown was writing about collective connection among people (and how to bring it more consciously, fully into our lives), I kept thinking as I read, but wait, what about the rest of the world in which humans are only one piece? And then she came to it: “collective effervescence.” (P. 130) Brown is still referring to human connection but, realizing that my connection is more often found among the more-than-human world of mountains, forests, and caves, of animals and the elements, this term she shares resonates deeply with me. It brings to the forefront my own way of connecting. Brown writes:
“Durkheim [who introduced this term in his 1912 book on religion] explained that collective effervescence is an experience of connection, communal emotion, and a ‘sensation of sacredness’ that happens when we are a part of something bigger than us.”
Granted, Brown and Durkheim are both referring to human gatherings around human constructs, but, for me, I was immediately lifted into those times when I was in nature, when awe propelled me out of myself. For instance, when I was at the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado; people were milling around yet we all seemed enraptured by the majesty of the mountain top and the panoramic views. That was collective effervescence. Another time, I was on a tour deep in the Onondaga Cave and breathless silence permeated the cavern periodically as we observed the splendor within the “wilderness underground.” That was collective effervescence. I’ve experienced this nature-inspired awe and effervescence on my own more times than I can count, but Brown’s work reminded me that I can feel it in company with strangers and groups sometimes as well.
Perhaps this connection via nature (rather than human construct) happens more often for me because of my intense tendency toward introversion, a quality that means I seldom gather in large groups of social intention (like concerts, plays, sports, even movie theaters). But I will brave crowds in order to experience the divine magic of Nature, of Gaia’s beyond-human creation, wherein we are simply one species — a part of a greater whole.