The Caves Beneath My Roots or Psychological Spelunking by Darla Graves Palmer

I’ve spent much of the past four years – since returning to the state of my birth after more than forty years’ intentional absence – trying to understand and make peace with a particular slice of southern culture that I avoided most of my adult life. Part of that process was a deep dive into my family roots which led me to also consider the caverns further below those roots. If landscape contributes to shaping our human nature, what might that mean for my family?

Here in the Missouri Ozarks, my roots extend a hundred and fifty years deep; my ancestors on both sides of my family are buried in the karst of the Ozark Plateau, and their bones have leached into the thousands of caves that honeycomb the area, mixing with the limestone and other minerals through the abundance of flowing water. I grew up being cautioned to watch out for sinkholes, often a sign that there was a cave system below.

Caves — the wilderness underground.[i] And, while many people enjoy touring show caves, far fewer have any interest in exploring the depths of the mind, especially conservative people in my neck of the woods. A majority of people in southwest Missouri either aren’t curious – or are afraid – to look below the surface, below the surface of historical or cultural or familial roots, to go into those dark cavernous spaces of tight squeezes or vast chambers. Part of the reason is a conservative temperament but it can also be due to religious dogma that forbids one from opening one’s mind to other ways of thinking and being.

Nevertheless, within this mysterious underground cave-scape is where we might meet to explore common ground – with compassion and curiosity. I’m realizing that finding commonality is the best way for me to thrive here. Where are we the same rather than different? How can we explore the caves together? I’m not saying it isn’t often unsettling or even frightening, this dark diving, this caving process, but it’s important. This is the adventure of psychological spelunking while embracing heart.

We have clear evidence that people of a conservative nature are less likely to become psychologists. In fact, “a survey of more than 500 social and personality psychologists published in 2012 found that only 6 percent identified as conservative overall.”[ii] This explained a lot for me; it certainly helped clarify why initially I ran into roadblocks with family-conservatives any time I mentioned psychology. I thought, okay, I need to stop citing resources in that field of inquiry in discussions and just talk about a subject through emotion and moral intuition.[iii] Reasoning could come in later after I listened as well as I was able. Could I do that? Would that allow me to be on the same page with conservative relatives and neighbors? Time would tell.

As for the religious dogma that prevents stillness in self-reflection, I hadn’t really thought about it. Not until a local sermon by a mega-church minister created an uproar in our area. Last year in October, Pastor John Lindell of the James River Church gave a sermon that subsequently hit the news wires in a big way – preaching against the paranormal through a variety of subjects like horoscopes, Tarot cards, crystals, Wicca, entertainment, and … Yoga. This was an extremely challenging sermon to watch. Many of Lindell’s remarks were shocking to me, including his comments, said in a few different ways, regarding opening one’s mind. For instance, Lindell said, regarding one’s practice to “relax the body or still the mind,” that:

“Meditation and Yoga brings a person to a consciousness of nothing around them … it lowers the mind gate that God has established for preservation, spiritually speaking, for a person. … God never intended for us to empty our minds or leave the door of our minds unguarded … to do so is spiritually dangerous.”

In spite of feeling disturbed and appalled by this church leader’s words, and the effects felt by our community, especially when some Yoga studios lost half their members, I wondered: Is there any way for people with such different mindsets to discuss with mutual respect the issues we face as a nation?

Which leads me back to caves. If only a portion of citizens are willing to venture into the depths of self-reflection, to go spelunking in our psyche, how do we traverse common ground? In the glare above ground, there are too many human-created manifestations, too many distractions that separate rather than unite – from religious institutions to political parties to social policies.

The dark wilderness that lies beneath our feet can house spectacular visions of divine creation as well as sudden drops into vertical shafts but we can navigate our way through with conscious awareness. Fear can open all our senses or it can prevent us forever from exploring. Unfortunately, I’ve heard from family members that they see no point to self-reflection, to doing a bit of caving, even if led by those who have traversed the path before them. If that’s the case, what’s left to us?

I guess it’s simply to bring the beauty and wisdom we discover or stumble upon during our spelunking up to the surface and share it however we can to marry above and below. And maybe, someday, someone who hasn’t ventured below before might be curious enough to overcome fear and established belief, take our offered hand, and go with us into the dark where transformation happens – even when we can’t see it.


Darla Graves Palmer is a seeker and healer through her blogs at On the Gaia Path and HolistiCARE, and her books are available at Solitaire CARE Press and on; her latest novel, the first in a feminist series, is Pie in the Sky: a Chantilly Lace novel.




[i] Weaver, H. Dwight. The Wilderness Underground: Caves of the Ozark Plateau. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. 2008. Print.

[ii] Aschwanden, Christie. “Psychologist Looked In The Mirror … And Saw A Bunch Of Liberals.” FiveThirtyEight, ABC News Internet Ventures. 02 July 2018. Web.

[iii] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Random House. 2012. Print.

Categories: Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Nature, religion

Tags: , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Hi Darla, thanks for an interesting article. I have a slightly different perspective, from the south west of Australia. We have karst landscape here too, aeolian limestone made by the wind, rain, and plant material only a million years ago. The limestone formation is ongoing, and the caves within are incredibly delicate and crystalline. I worked in some as a guide for over five years. Many people here are fascinated by caves, or come because of the marketing, but once within many respond to the deep internalising atmosphere and leave with insights they weren’t expecting. Wild caving though is heavily restricted due to past damage and the sensitivities of the Indigenous people, who believe they are the homes of spirits. I love our caves and feel by spending time in them we can connect both to the landscape and to ourselves :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • How wonderful that you were a cave guide for a while! I adore caves although have never been able to spend as much quiet, solitary time in them as I would have liked to. Yes, wild caving is far more restricted now in Missouri and throughout the US as well — thank goodness. We have some active wet caves as well as dry ones; all have their own unique feel to them, eh? Thanks for sharing!


  2. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Love the connections you make between land and psyche. Wishing you happy, fruitful adventures on your own and with friends, family, and neighbors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I loved this post… as a former psychologist (Jungian pattern analyst) and a cave dweller I have asked the same questions you have:

      “If only a portion of citizens are willing to venture into the depths of self-reflection, to go spelunking in our psyche, how do we traverse common ground? In the glare above ground, there are too many human-created manifestations, too many distractions that separate rather than unite – from religious institutions to political parties to social policies.”

      How do we find common ground? Most people simply are not interested in the caves of our minds and bodies… and without self examination how are our perceptions distorted>

      I don’t have answers but the older I get the more questions I have.

      One sad thing is that are if you are a cave visitor or dweller it is often a lonely place.

      Thanks so much!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Sara … yup, more and more questions as I get older and try to envision avenues through them to meet with like minds, usually through writing since live conversations can be mine-fields, unfortunately. But I keep trying.

        Odd that you say “if you are a cave visitor or dweller it is often a lonely place” and I’m sorry if that is your feeling. I don’t find it lonely at all but then I’m extremely introverted and adore caving of any kind more with every passing year, finding it enlivening rather than isolating. Much love and blessings to you.


    • Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth — wishing you joy and blessings. My reflections here are part of a much larger manuscript I hope to share someday with my nieces.


  3. Wow–small world. My roots, at least as far back as great grandparents, also lie in Missouri, though on the eastern side, mostly around St. Louis. I’ve been to the Ozarks and have spoken (and sometimes made friends) with people like those you describe, the deep-rooted ones who are not necessarily eager to explore their metaphorical caves. That quote about how the standard-brand god doesn’t want us to empty our minds using yoga or meditation is really scary! But not, alas, surprising.

    Good for you to explore your caves and roots and to write such a profound post. Brava!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very small world indeed; my SIL’s family go back many generations in St. Louis area as well. The entire sermon was quite disturbing although now with a year’s distance since first hearing it, I hope to write another essay addressing more of the pastor’s comments. Thanks for the kudos! Blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: