The sit spot

It’s an optional assignment, on the permaculture course I’m taking, to locate a sit spot.  We’ve been told, ‘A sit spot is a space in nature that you return to on a regular basis – ideally once a day, but once or twice a week is better than not at all. You want to spend some quiet time in the spot, a sort of sensual meditation. The idea is that after a while, as you become familiar with the spot, the spot also becomes familiar with you; animals and other creatures will see you as a non-threatening part of it… it’s a spot where magic happens.’

It sounds an attractive thing to do.  Sit, observe, interact, and, in the words of Ladybug Earthcare ‘use our senses to become aware of how nature moves and acts around you.  It’s a meditative, grounding practice, with as much or as little purpose and direction as you wish to bring to it. Simply sitting, breathing and tuning into the natural world is good for body, mind and spirit!’

There are some obstacles I’m conjuring up that have, so far, prevented me from trying this out – even once, let alone on a regular basis.    

First off, is identifying the spot in nature.  Should it be the eucalyptus tree I can see out of my window when I lie on my bed?  I can’t get up close to this outside as it’s in a neighbour’s garden.  Or maybe the tree outside my kitchen window with the bird feeders on it.  Lots to observe there, but standing at my kitchen window.   Or maybe I could sit on a swing in the local park and see what I can see from there.  

I think what’s holding me up on finding the spot is the phrase ‘in nature’.  I live in a densely built urban area.  ‘In nature’ takes on a different feeling in my urban world.  Is one plane tree, struggling with heavy pollarding, in its pavement location ‘in nature’?    My imaginative world thinks of ‘in nature’ as being woodland, open heath, wild moorlands, seascapes and sand dunes, all untouched by human hand.  It also requires me to be outdoors and not in a building.

Second, there’s the ‘return on a regular basis’ request.  So, the sit spot must be accessible in my day.  The various things I’ve read about sit spots all say they should be within 5-10 minutes’ walk, maximum.  The places I return to on a regular basis sometimes more than once a day, that are within 5 – 10 minutes’ walk are the supermarket, the bus stop, the schoolchildren’s drop-off/pickup point, and the kitchen sink.  These are not the places for ‘sensual meditation’ in my experience.  And they are not, what I would call, ‘in nature’.

My third obstacle is the ‘sit’ bit.  I don’t do much sitting.  I’d have to practice that.  I tend to stand (at my standing desk) or walk about.  I have a kneeling bench which I use occasionally.  I generally sit only to eat a meal, or when I’m on public transport (if there’s a seat available). 

The fourth obstacle is the ‘quiet time’.  Urban noise, particularly from road traffic is highly concerning.  An EU report rates it as ‘the second most harmful environmental stressor in Europe, behind air pollution’.   I’d be hard-pressed to find a relatively quiet spot, where I live. at the intersection of two major inter-city roads, close to train and tube lines, and under an airport flight path. 

The fifth obstacle is the possibility that I am succumbing to what Maria Popova calls ‘ the Western pathology of cynicism, our flawed self-protection mechanism that readily dismisses anything sincere and true as simplistic or naïve — even if, or precisely because, we know that all real truth and sincerity are simple by virtue of being true and sincere.’ And am not willing to consider there might, in a sit spot actually be magic, or something close to it.

Because I like the idea of finding a spot where ‘magic happens’ and looking again at the five obstacles, maybe I am over-egging them.  There are many ways to find a way round them, in order to get to the magic.  

For example, I’m heartened to read in one piece on sit spots that ‘the more natural diversity around you the better. A combination of open meadow, some shrubs, brambles, and/or bushes, some trees, and a water element (i.e., creek, pond) are ideal. Obviously, most people won’t have this.  It’s ok! I promise that even if you have a single rose bush and a concrete patio, your sit spot ritual will be transformational for you!’ 

Good, my tiny urban garden, is good enough.  There is a tree, I have two hanging bird feeders, there is a small patch of grass, and the start of what I’m hoping will become a mixed variety hedge, (mixed hedging whips, planted last spring).   

It’s close to home (obviously) and this meeting the easy access with 5-minutes requirement.   

Sitting I’m not so sure about, but my kneeling stool is portable and comfortable enough for ten minutes at a time. 

The traffic noise thing I could cancel by wearing my ear-defenders, these are much ridiculed by my family members, but I find them great when I’m walking down the main road, or when I’m on a commuter train – they cut out loud mobile phone conversations. But if I wore ear defenders in my sit spot then I wouldn’t hear ‘nature’.  Perhaps simply visually observing is sufficient to conjure the magic.

My latent cynicism is addressable simply by trying out sitting (kneeling) in a sit spot and giving it a go.  I’ve decided to do so for 7 days and see what happens.   

I’ll follow the go wild instructions: 

  • Settle into yourself – get comfortable, breathe deeply, relax your body, greet yourself with kindness
  • Set an intention to connect with the natural world around you – let go of distractions
  • Turn your attention to what you smell, hear, see, feel – really experience the sounds of the birds, the temperature of the air on your skin, the smell of the plants growing around you
  • Get curious, wonder about things, and let it be ok to not have to know anything – this is about connection not information or knowledge
  • Towards the end of your time, take a moment to review. You might like to draw, write a poem, or gather a few eye-catching objects to deepen your connection to your sit spot and to give you a reminder of your experience.
  • Finally, acknowledge and thank your sit spot— by pausing to enjoy it for a few more moments, by offering water to a plant or tree, or leaving a bit of food for the animals

I wonder what I’ll learn from the experience.

Image: Austin Nature and Science Center

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