Aug 13

Relating to Place

Delores Park, San FranciscoAs I embarked on my daily walk around the park I live near, it occurred to me that I had grown acustomed to “her face” to borrow from a line in the Broadway show “My Fair Lady”.  Prior to this I had taken “her” existence for granted.  But now I began to realize that my repeated visits to the park was in some subtle way intertwining its presence into the fabric of my existence.  This park no longer was just a name.  Now it had become a Place for me.


What does it mean to be in a place?  And what is a place?  I think that most of us rarely reflect on this.  Places are like the air we breathe.  They are so much a part of our continuing experience of being alive.  We take it for granted.


And yet Place is a special experience for each of us both individually and collectively.  When attention is paid to the existence of a place something lights up in us.  There is this qualitative perception far removed from the mere locating a point on some map.  Places have an atmosphere about them.  They feel alive.  What I was realizing was that places do not exist distinct from me.  That is, they are a part of who I am while at the same time having their own existence.


I’m sure if you ask all the people visiting the park around the time that I was taking my walk how they experience this place there would be as many views and understandings about what made this a place for them.  And yet the park is its own place. 


What I am pointing to is a process of relationship building.  Places are what they are because we build a multitude of connections and associations to it over time.  The first visit to a place is very different from when I return to it at some other time in my life.  Unless, from the start, I give my full attention to a place it usually exists as a “place holder” for what I happened to be doing.  In my case, it is the location where I choose to take a walk.


However, over time, with repeated contacts with this park a more informed and awakened consciousness begins to emerge.  I begin to notice more details and variations in the felt texture of the landscape I traverse.  I notice I anticipate reconnecting with various aspects of this park – a particular tree, slope of the land, fragrance of a flowering bush, a tarnished statue, how the light plays in certain areas, and so much more. 


Just as when we develop a relationship with another person, it is built, in part, by the repeated interactions we have together.  The more engaged I become the more involved is the relating.  A certain comfort settles in as we repeatedly renew our interactions.  We feel at home with this person.  In the same way we also connect to and deepen a relationship to a place.


This contrasts starkly to the one time visit to a new place.  Such encounters are too often a blend of anxious coping and joyful novelty.  The underlying angst occurs because of our perpetual need to feel safe.  We often say, “I need to get my bearings” and get oriented before I can relax into the place I am in.  At the same time, because it is new there is a high level of novelty that can stimulate excitement and curiosity.


With repeated visits I graduate into a more textured and subtler response where a greater discrimination of features can occur.  It is as if I can hold more information about the place and all the while feel into it more deeply.


A lot of this takes place beyond my conscious awareness.  And yet it is always there to be summoned forth when I decide to attend more to where I am.  This seems to be the key.  I need to find some way to remind myself to be awake to what I am experiencing and not just be automatic in my responses.  And with this attention I allow myself to settle in to what is the Place I am in.

1 comment

  1. Iris Stanfield

    Right on target as usual. As I read your words I thought of places that had such meaning to me. It was calming and peaceful to think of those several spots that will stay with me all my life..even the smells of them stay with me.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts!

Comments have been disabled.