Welcome back to the Mindfulness In Nature series. So far, we’ve been laying a foundation of awareness skills that you can apply in many different places outdoors. Today, I’ll be introducing an essential core practice that is designed to exponentially amplify your relationship with Nature. I call this practice the Meditation Spot.
Also known as a “sit spot”, the Meditation Spot is a special place that you adopt on the landscape and visit regularly to practice your awareness skills. This spot becomes your own outdoor meditation studio, a nourishing place to connect, introspect, savor with your senses, and expand your relationship with the natural world. This does not have to be a spot on some far-off mountaintop retreat; it can be much more humble and accessible. In fact, the most effective Meditation Spot is the one that you can easily get to day in and day out.
Today, I’ll be sharing some qualities to look for in a good spot, and also how you can find a spot even if you don’t live in the wilderness because this is a practice that can also be done in the suburban and urban environment.
The Meditation Spot: A Transformative Practice
First, why adopt a Meditation Spot? There is a Taoist saying that speaks to the power of this practice: “At first, through practice, that which is hidden becomes subtle. With further practice and attention, that which is subtle then becomes obvious.”
In Nature, there are many layers of patterns and dynamics at play. The interplay of the weather and elements, the behavior of the birds and other animals, and the lifecycle of the plants and trees are in constant motion. Each season and time of day brings forward a different manifestation of the cycle of life.
Every time we visit the same place with a present and open mindset, we have a chance to discover something new about the environment, and about ourselves in relation to it. Patterns that previously were hidden or undetected begin to percolate into conscious awareness. Birds’ sounds that we never noticed start to catch our attention. Small details like the footprints of a fox in the mud, or the soft feel and scent of the pine needles underfoot, begin to etch themselves into our awareness. Gradually, new connections emerge as we build a living sense of place and a personal relationship with the land and the beings that dwell there.
Just as you know every corner and part of your home, so too can you become familiar on a deep level with your Meditation Spot. Meanwhile, the animals and birds that live there will get to know you. In time, as you become accepted as part of that place, you may begin to observe the animals in their normal routines, as you blend further into the normal fabric of the landscape. Instead of being a visitor, you realize your own part in the dynamics of the ecological community.
Social science researchers have found that as we develop personal, meaningful interactions with the landscape, we begin to develop a positive attachment to place. Through repeated visits to a place, we begin to strengthen our emotional, mental, and sensory connections with the land. In the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and navigation specialized place cells actually map out the areas we frequently visit. So, your brain literally begins to carry a map of your Meditation Spot with you in your neural networks!
As this connection deepens, our self-identity enlarges to include the landscape as part of our meaningful ongoing personal experience. We begin to realize how visiting this special place in Nature helps us feel more relaxed, connected, and attentive. A sense of place develops, which inherently leads to greater respect and care for our environment.
Finding Your Meditation Spot
So what are some good qualities to seek in a Meditation Spot? First, find a place you can get to within a few minute’s walk. The backyard, garden, or local park are great places to go to find a spot. The main thing is to find somewhere you’ll feel comfortable sitting for a bit. The closer it is, the more likely you are to actually go there. At work, an office park can also provide spots to sit during breaks. If you have a favorite hiking trail that’s nearby, you might choose a spot there.
Let’s cover some ideal qualities to consider when choosing a spot. Again, these are just ideas, so don’t worry if you can’t find a spot with all of these traits.
If you are interested in observing bird and mammal activity, I recommend looking for an “edge area.” Edges occur where two habitat zones meet each other, such as where a meadow meets a forest. You’ll notice these spots have a greater diversity of life compared to the middle of the forest, because edges contain a mixture of both habitats, with more food sources and cover. Birds, rabbits, deer, and other animals love the shrubs that tend to grow at edge areas, where they find plenty of cover and food resources. They in turn draw in hawks, owls, foxes, and other animals.
Animals and plants also thrive near water sources, so if there is a pond, creek, or other water source nearby, there will likely be a greater abundance of life in the area. Many parks feature ponds. As a bonus, the water can be very relaxing to gaze at with your Expanded Vision.
Also, it’s often nice to sit with a tree or fence behind you for comfort. You may also enjoy having a view in front of you so that you can see bird activity in the distance and whatever other stories are unfolding. Sitting by a bird feeder can also be an interesting way to observe animal behavior. Again, the most important thing is to simply pick a place and start going! Don’t let a lack of any of these ideal factors stop you from adopting a spot. Every place has something unique to offer—but, you have to go to find out what that is!!!
So, my invitation for you today is to find a Meditation Spot. It doesn’t have to be permanent, or perfect, but just find a place to implement the practices that we’re exploring in this course. It could be a bench in the park, a spot in the backyard, or under a tree at the edge of a meadow. Let your curiosity guide you, and be open to what the landscape has to share with you. You can always try another spot later, and every spot will teach you something. Although you don’t absolutely need a dedicated spot for the rest of this series, if you begin to incorporate the practices there, it will certainly begin developing and deepening a powerful sense of place. In the next lesson, I’ll be sharing some further pointers and techniques for orienting to your spot, or wherever you happen to be mindfully connecting outdoors. So, get out there today and see what you can discover!
- Learn how visiting a regular Meditation Spot builds relationships with your outer environment and with your Inner Nature, too. Discover helpful qualities for a spot, and guidance for finding one in your yard or local park.
- Learn a simple routine for getting centered there that we will build on further in the course.