Spirit of Place - Sense of Place/Senses in Place - Adventures

picture of smooth grey round river stones - with text reading sense of place/senses of place

Key adventures that connect the senses with a sense of place include Place Dreams (Chalquist), Tending a Garden (Linden & Grut, Diehl), Earth Awareness (Maceowen), Taking a Sense Walk (Starhawk), Perceive in Place (Cruden), and Soul Surfing (Taylor). Several other resources are also available.

Place Revery

picture of nearly full moon through the trees at Vallombrosa Retreat Center, M. Hauk photographer

Terrapsychology includes opening to dreams from places (Chalquist, 2007). Before sleeping and after a long walk or spending physical time in the place, invite the place to speak to you in dream or revery. Place paper and pen/crayons by your resting spot so you can capture what comes. This dream may not be just about you, it might be terrapsychological, something the place wants to communicate about its own needs. Open to the imaginal realm to receive the wisdom of this particular locale.

"A primary purpose of terrapsychology--from terra (Earth, ground), psyche (soul, mind), and -logy (study of)--is to tend to the psyche or soul of story-, dream-, and symptom-gathering places and their features by hearing, reflecting deeply on, and replying to their nonverbal-symbolic modes of address. This emphasis complements psychology, ecopsychology, environmental science, and mainstream ecology by responding to the terrain and its animating resonations dancing in the psychological field as reactive outer and inner presences with needs of their own. The terrapsychological approach explores how the inner connection between people and planet remains active and highly resonant, providing a means to greet the genius loci on its own lively ground.” (Chalquist, 2007, p. 43)

“This continual dialog informs the ecological structuring of enduring human communities in which people remember how to experience themselves not as autonomous egos but more naturally, as indigenous openings or nodes of contact with each other and the environment.” (2007, p. 50)

“Inviting the local myths in tends an aspect of the imaginal ecology, just as keeping a friendly eye on the local soils tends to the physical ecology. To the degree that we make space for the stories that dwell in particular places, we enrich our relations with the animated world, enlarge our understanding of ecocommunity as human, terrestrial, and archetypal, and learn something of where our own stories fit into larger patterns of earthly myths dreamed and framed by the land.” (2007, pp. 88-89)

Tend a Garden

picture of tomatoes freshly harvested and glowing, M. Hauk photographer

The field of horticultural therapy offers growing gardens as a process of connecting with nature. "the restorative and healing impact that people can experience through contact with nature." (Linden & Grut, 2002, p. 23). "The garden enhances the individual's recuperative powers. Access to gardens and natural views throughout all phases of hospitalization and recovery has been shown to enhance healing, recovery, and recuperation...Sensory stimulation helps us to connect with nature by engaging us physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Such positive stimulation occurs frequently in the garden....When our senses are aroused in the garden, our relationship with nature gains experiential complexity, allowing us to experience a stronger connection to the landscape, and, therefore, its healing qualities." (Diehl, 2009, p. 169). Increases in immunity, lower stress hormone levels, the recuperative powers of fascination and broad awareness have all been demonstrated to be beneficial results of gardening (Diehl, 2009, p. 170).

"Fascination theory...describes how a garden setting can help us recover from mental fatigue. The directed attention required for most work-related tasks (such as working at a computer or studying a text) leads to irritability, impatience, mistakes, risk taking, and exhaustion when maintained for too long; in contrast, fascination involves focused attention without effort. For example, we might be fascinated with a butterfly in the garden and become fully absorbed in watching it float through the air from flower to flower. This kind of attention does not contribute to mental fatigue. It can, in fact, provide time to recover by permitting reflection and though despite our absorption. In a restorative setting, fascination can help an individual explore difficult thoughts and emotions in a calm and less painful way." (Diehl, 2007, p. 170)


Earth Awareness

picture heron on an island of Watson Lake with autumn gold leaves nearby, M. Hauk photographer

Frank MacEowen, in The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers suggests an Earth Awareness walk. Walk in an open area. Find a tree or handful of trees. Prepare the self and walk through, as if through a gateway entering "a nonordinary flow of awareness. Open yourself to the images of the land and the teachings to be found there." Expand yourself and open up to what the senses bring. Relate to the multiple intelligences and presences in the landscape.

"Are you able to discern some of the many presences in nature, or with primal earth? To feel and enter into dialogue with the inspirited citizens of the sacred world in this way, we must perceive ourselves as inspirited as well." Record experiences across your senses, heart and mind and return to this spot for other visits. "Ask to be shown how to merge with 'the land beneath the land.'" (2002, pp. 115-116)

Sense Walk

image of a bright orange poppy being pollinated by a bee, M. Hauk photographer

Starhawk in The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature, 2004 describes the practice of Coming into the Senses (pp. 55-56). Start with eyes closed. "Sniff the air. Take some long, deep breaths through your nose, followed by some short sniffs. Become aware of what you smell. The air is full of information. Imagine for a moment that you have the nose of a dog or a wolf. What would the breeze be telling you? Can you smell the trees? ... Taste the air in the back of your throat. What parts of your tongue come alive?... Feel the air on your skin. Become aware of the touch of the breeze, the temperature....Are you standing in the sun or the shade? Are there patches of both, and how do they feel different? Become aware of...the pull of gravity on your body...Open your ears. Imagine that you have the ears of a deer, that you can shift and point in any direction. What sounds do you hear? Do you hear birds? Traffic? Voices? Insects? What do your ears tell you? Now open your eyes. Add sight to the information you are receiving from all of your other senses. What do you see when you focus on a point or an object? What do you see when you extend your vision into wide awareness? Earth-walk in your space, in wide awareness with your senses open. What do you smell and taste and feel and hear and see?"


Perceive in Place

picture of spiral agave plant growth

Loren Cruden, in The Spirit of Place suggests a focus on open perception as a way to connect with the spirit of place. Spend several days in one spot, Sit outdoors in the open, in view of the natural world. "Integrate spiritual and physical perception so that they are not separate points of view, or views of separate worlds. From the integration comes a centering of vision and an expansion of reality....Begin as always with breath. Relax and be in the present moment with yourself, with the universe. Notice your state of physical and emotional being. Breathe--acknowledge that you are here.... Let your atunement to illumination [and light] lead you to the world of form. Marvel at the diversity and beauty of the forms around you.... Become aware of movement...Observe the interrelationship of movements--see how they harmonize and interweave. Feel your part in these relationships...Shift your attention to listening. Touch the Earth about where you sit. Feel its textures and temperatures. Smell what moves on the air around you. Smell the Earth. Maybe taste it. Open your senses to these gifts. Be present with them....Breathe with the land and sky. What calls your attention? What flows from that attention? What is realized and understood? What are your feelings most connected to? ...See the world in its wholeness, with your perception as part of that wholeness, permeating it, yet unbounded by it. Feel your freedom within this vast web of relationship." Rounds of interaction with perception and place then also include exploring peripheral vision, scanning, and visual travel with breath.

"Looking at something and actually seeing it are often not the same experiences. To see, you first need to be attentive. Much of what you are looking at as you gaze at the world is the reflection of your beliefs and expectations."

Soul Surf

picture of a woman on the beach with a scarf in the wind, M. Hauk photographer

Bron Taylor 2010 research into Soul Surfing in Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Futureis adapted here into a Spirit of Place adventure.

Travel to a body of water, the ocean, a local lake or river, a friend's pool, or even your bathtub. Immerse yourself in the water. Open your senses and feel the water's pull and flow. Body surf, feel held and held up. Deepen in all your senses and become fully alive in the experience.

Surfing is "'the pure act of riding on a pulse of nature's energy' which brings contentment and also the 'magic that only comes from spending time on the moving canvas.'... [T]he experience connects the surfer to nature, its energies, and its wild creatures, expressing the spirituality of belonging and connection that typifies dark green religion." "There is a mysterious magic in surfing that can only be apprehended directly through the experience; that surfing fosters self-realization;... that surfing can lead to a life filled with compassion toward other living beings." "Sensual experiences constitute the sacred center...foster understandings of nature as powerful, transformative, healing, and sacred. Such perceptions, in turn, often lead to ethical action in which Mother Nature, and especially its manifestation as Mother Ocean, is considered sacred and worthy of reverent care. Many surfers also develop feelings of communion and kinship with the nonhuman animals they encounter during their practice. These experiences sometimes take on an animistic ethos and lead surfers to activism on behalf of marine ecosystems and particular species." (pp. 104-105)

Picture of Book cover of Terrapsychology, turbulent water moving

Many books exist with a wealth of resources and activities regarding sense of place, including an extensive listing for Gaian research methods. Key resources include:

  1. Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. New York: Pantheon Books.
  2. Abram, D. (2010). Becoming animal: An earthly cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books.
  3. Berry, W. (1985). Collected poems, 1957-1982. San Francisco: North Point Press.
  4. Chalquist, C. (2007). Terrapsychology: Re-engaging the soul of place. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books.
  5. Chalquist, C. (2010). Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled. World Soul Books.
  6. Clinebell, H. J. (1996). Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, healing the earth: A guide to ecologically grounded personality theory, spirituality, therapy, and education. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  7. Cohen, M. (2007). Reconnecting with nature: Finding wellness through restoring your bond with the Earth. Lakeville, MN: Finney/Ecopress.
  8. Cruden, L. (1995). The spirit of place: A workbook for sacred alignment : ceremonies and visualizations for cultivating your relationship with the Earth. Rochester, Vt: Destiny Books.
  9. Diehl, E. R. M. (2009). Gardens that heal. In Buzzell, L. & Chalquist, C., Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind (pp. 166-173). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.
  10. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.
  11. LaChapelle, D. (1988). Sacred land, sacred sex: Rapture of the deep: Concerning deep ecology and celebrating life. Durango, CO: Kivakí Press.
  12. Linden, S., Grut, J., & The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (2002). The healing fields: Working with Psychotherapy and nature to rebuild shattered lives. London, U.K.: Frances Lincoln.
  13. MacEowen, F. (2002). The mist-filled path: Celtic wisdom for exiles, wanderers, and seekers. Novato, Calif: New World Library.
  14. Macy, J. (2007). World as lover, world as self: Courage for global justice and ecological renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
  15. Macy, J., & Brown, M. Y. (1998). Coming back to life: Practices to reconnect our lives, our world. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.
  16. Nhất, H., & Ellsberg, R. (2008). The essential Thich Nhat Hanh: Thich Nhat Hanh. London: Darton Longman & Todd.
  17. Starhawk. (2005). The earth path: Grounding your spirit in the rhythms of nature. New York: HarperOne.
  18. Taylor, B. R. (2010). Dark green religion: Nature spirituality and the planetary future. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  19. Zajonc, A. (2009). Meditation as contemplative inquiry: When knowing becomes love. Great Barrington, Mass: Lindisfarne Books.
  20. Seed, J. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: Towards a council of all beings. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

planetary collaborations

Earth Empathy is a project of the Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies, a fruit of a mentored doctoral course in "Deep Regeneration of Self and World" in the Prescott PhD in Sustainability Education, companioned by the insightful mentoring of Craig Chalquist. The adventures continue to unfold. Please collaborate and share your ideas, experiences, activities, and resources...Welcome home!