hooded merganser and chicks

A hooded merganser and chicks on one of Earth Sanctuary's several ponds.

Spirituality Meets Ecology at Earth Sanctuary

Located on Whidbey Island, a short ferry ride from the mainland north of Seattle, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary is a place to visit and reflect, walk trails, view bird life, and find your own spiritual renewal. Here Buddhist principles abide with nature amidst Neolithic bogs and huge megalithic monuments.

The creation of Chuck Pettis, a dedicated Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and Co-Executive Director of Sakya Monastery in Seattle, the Sanctuary’s mission is based on the intention “to combine exemplary ecology with art and spirit”.

Cottonwood Stone Circle

Earth Sanctuary's massive Cottonwood Stone Circle.

“The manifestation of my life plan is to do as much good in the world as I can while I am still alive,” says Pettis. “I love the environment. I love sacred spaces. And I love meditating. Earth Sanctuary brings those loves together in an environment of massive stones, reflective ponds, singing birds, munching beavers and lovely trails.”

At Earth Sanctuary, nature is the top priority. The Sanctuary’s three ponds are recognized as a habitat of importance by both the Audubon Society and Island County. Over 80 species of birds breed on the property. Under its “500-Year Plan” the Earth Sanctuary team is working proactively to recover old-growth forest.

“My vision is to create an old-growth forest with maximum diversity of plants, birds, wildlife, and fungi,” states Pettis. “To date, we have planted over 15,000 native plants and 3,000 trees, rooted in mycelium spores.

“I’m not getting any younger. Thinking of impermanence and the difficulty of obtaining a human birth, in this lifetime I want to use all the known state-of-the-art and best forest management practices to optimize the benefits of Earth Sanctuary’s forest and habitat values for future generations.”

Within its natural framework, Earth Sanctuary is also a sculpture garden of sacred spaces designed to radiate spiritual power and peacefulness. Having studied the effect of space on consciousness at Carnegie-Mellon University and at Buckminster Fuller’s design school at Southern Illinois University, Pettis resolved to study the design techniques used to build ancient monuments and then create stone circles himself to see if a new, contemporary space could alter and uplift consciousness.

“I don’t know anyone who meditates or prays too much,” states Pettis. “I’ve tried to create an environment that motivates and facilitates spiritual practice.”

Sacred spaces installed at Earth Sanctuary include a labyrinth based on a design from 2500 B.C.E.; two stone circles – one of them the tallest modern stone circle in the world; a 20-ton table-shaped dolmen stone; and a Native American medicine wheel. A second medicine wheel is under construction under the guidance of a shaman of the Nuu-chah-nulth people. “We just installed a gray whale skull at this new site,” exclaims Pettis. “It is powerful!”

The nature reserve enhances Earth Sanctuary as a meditation parkland and the spiritual intention provided by the parkland supports the healing of nature.

Stupa at Earth Sanctuary

The recently completed stupa at Earth Sanctuary.

For example, before its construction the labyrinth site was a tangled monoculture of non-native Himalayan blackberry. This undesirable invasive has been removed and replaced by a wide buffer of native wetland herbs, shrubs, and trees to provide diversity of wildlife habitat. With the goal of restoring a great blue heron rookery the birds recently abandoned a mile from the Sanctuary, the larger of the stone circles has been surrounded by a belt of young black cottonwood trees. In 20-30 years these will provide excellent nesting spots for the heron colony.

Recently completed at Earth Sanctuary is a traditional Buddhist stupa. The stupa is the most important Buddhist monument and sacred space, representing Buddha’s holy body, speech and mind, as well as the path that one follows to become a Buddha and enlightened being. Stupas are holy monuments designed to bring peace and harmony to a community and the world. According to Buddhist teachings, a stupa helps calm your mind, radiates spiritual blessings, amplifies prayers, promotes long life, attracts wealth, helps cure disease, and plants the seeds of enlightenment.

Earth Sanctuary's Retreat House is the retreat center for Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. “I wanted to create a stupa to honor my spiritual teacher, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya,” says Pettis, “and to be a blessing for all who visit the stupa and Earth Sanctuary.”

The shape of the stupa represents Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation position. The square base is the ethical foundation and his throne. The circular rings in the middle are his body. His head is the domed section. The 13 gold rings are the levels of spiritual attainment. The umbrella is the great compassion of the Buddha. The moon and sun represent the intention to relieve all beings of suffering and to attain the happiness of enlightenment. The pinnacle at the top is the crown of Buddha.

Earth Sanctuary partners with the University of Washington Restoration Ecology Network (UW-REN). UW-REN facilitates the integration of students, faculty, and members of the community in ecological restoration and conservation projects. Each year a group from UW-REN conducts a restoration project in the Newman Road area of Earth Sanctuary.

Earth Sanctuary is open to the public seven days a week for a small fee of $7.00. The Retreat House is available for individual and small group day and overnight spiritual retreats.

For more information about Earth Sanctuary, please visit www.earthsanctuary.org.
Information about Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism is at www.sakya.org.
Regarding retreat rental inquiries, email Celia Sullivan at [email protected] or telephone 360-321-5465.

Contributors: Tim Tapping, Chuck Pettis.
Photos: Courtesy of Earth Sanctuary.