The Power of Place

Envision a quiet pond. On a morning so still that the surroundings are reflected perfectly in its surface. Surely there are many names for this state but let’s assign one to it and call it baseline – i.e – everything in the vicinity is relaxed and following its normal routine. A small stone thrown into the water causes an initial splash, followed by concentric rings of disturbance emanating outward, scattering what was a clear reflection on the surface. Notice how any object protruding from the surface of the pond becomes a mirror which reflects the waves back towards the source, albeit smaller in amplitude – similar to sonar or radar.

Disturbances in forest or field manifest in much the same way. When a blue jay is squawking one of its many alarm calls, and others rally and join in, taking positions in the trees encircling their perceived threat, it’s fairly straightforward to determine precisely where that threat is by watching and listening. You can tell whether the cause of the alarm is perched in a tree or on the ground, moving or still, in which direction and at what speed. This event does not, can not, occur without sending ripples throughout the landscape, which then affect every living thing – some in significant ways, others hardly at all.

For a million years (the estimated age of our frontal lobe but its likely 2 or 3 times that) our ancestors read and retained enormous amounts of information from the landscape through sustained observation and an intimate knowledge of place. Homo’s skill in pattern recognition, color resolution and depth perception may be among the best in the animal kingdom. But since we historically weren’t the biggest or strongest or fastest animal in the ‘hood we had to be the most creative, the best at working together, the most skilled at interpreting what our senses were telling us and acting upon this information in an effective manner. We have inherited a great deal from our predecessors – to this day we are still hard-wired to observe and comprehend the flow of the natural world and regardless of our cultural programming these innate skills can be reawakened and ultimately mastered.

One of the simplest and most effective tools that we all have available to us for reclaiming this ancient gift of awareness and providing some space for self-reflection is a device that can be referred to as a sit spot. Physically, this is a place, preferably in a natural setting, where you make a commitment to yourself to spend 30-60 minutes a day in a state of open observation. Even 20 minutes if that’s the best you can squeeze out of your day. It could be the porch of an apartment or a bench on your lunch break but an ideal ‘spot’ would be sitting on mother earth with your back leaning against a tree, with varied terrain in your field of view and a minimum of distraction. Choose a time of day that works best for you – although morning and evening are ideal because of the natural shift changes in man and beast. Energetically, this is a place that you have chosen to help quiet your mind, to settle the dust, reflect on the previous day, prepare for the day at hand, to give thanks for your family, your eyesight, your two strong legs, your appetite, all that food in your refrigerator, the warmth of the rising sun and to learn from what you observe unfolding around you. In time this typically leads to the formation of questions about birds and trees and cycles of the moon, the state of the world – and of the self. Spiritually, this time spent in open observation (meaning without an agenda) allows us to connect with the subtle rhythms of the earth, of the neighborhood, the forest, the ocean, the ancestors – opening doorways to a deeper understanding of this blessed earth and our place within it.

Let’s face it. To say that the society we live in is at times quite chaotic is an understatement. So much so that we are becoming callous to it. I meet people every day, and you probably do too, who are incapable of slowing down, of quieting their minds even for ten seconds. Not because they are bad or lazy people but because they have been conditioned to be in a continuous state of stress. In the last few years this has been catalyzed by unrelenting information overload from data banking, social media and global mis-and-dis-information, with no end in sight. Think of each of the hundreds of stressors we are subjected to each day as yet another stone thrown into the quiet pond. Its no wonder the modern human can’t slow down – they have so little experience in it. This separation from our ancestral state of being must be a factor in the increase in stress related illnesses, immune system and mental disorders, the epidemic of prescription drug use/abuse and the feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness and fear. Ceremony is one powerful antidote for this feeling of being on a speeding train with a chimp in the driver’s seat. if for no other value, see the sit spot as an simple and ancient ceremony. One that you own and are continuously evolving.

So. You can begin by setting the intention of this ceremony right now. Think of a place, not more than a few minutes walk from your back door, perhaps one that you always seem to migrate to, and observe how it feels in your body. Now go there and find comfortable place to sit. I bring a scrap piece of foam from an old camping pad to sit on. Take a moment and align yourself with a specific cardinal direction, one that just feels right, even empowering. With any luck this alignment will line up perfectly with the best spot to park your butt. Take a few moments to come to your senses, slowing your breathing. Notice the direction of the wind, a slight change in the humidity, a flurry of bird activity. Notice the ebb and flow of your thoughts, your mood, expectations, fears. Allows these their space but never to the exclusion of what is going on around you. Now you are returning to your ancestral baseline. Journaling what you learn in this practice will help to lock in the deeper meaning of your experiences. As you sink deeper into this core routine, you may notice that it begins to resemble the feeling of a simple and pure ceremony. You may also notice that this ‘place’ becomes part of you. In the middle of your work day your mind may flash to it. You may have a sense of knowing what is going on there when you’re not present. You may find yourself longing to be there under times of confusion or stress. This is good. Don’t be surprised when birds gather around you and and grace you with their songs or land on the brim of your hat. You are returning. This is the power of place working its magic.

As in any other discipline, allow some time for it to take root. Please feel free to post your observations to this forum. We all learn and gain inspiration through our collective experiences. If you have any questions about hazards, say, identifying poison ivy or how to remove a tick, let us know.

Blessings one and all

Michael Ridolfo

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