Wilderness Wednesdays - Sit Spot - Sitting Quietly and Observing Nature
In last week's post, discussing an introduction to Bird Language, I mentioned that one of the first practices to adopt is a sit spot. Therefore, I am going to expand upon that this week because it is a beautiful practice all on it's own and how to begin. It is important to keep it simple, we are very good at over thinking our way out of doing the simplest of tasks.
A sit spot is a spot of your choosing that you can return to on a regular basis. You do not have to be alone in the wilderness, cut off from society to enjoy nature. It is much like meditation, you do not have to be in a temple or at an altar to practice. Simply go outside, sit down and observe nature around you, the key, is to pick a spot you can return to so you are familiar with it. Chances are, you have this already, there is a favorite spot for you to sit and enjoy being outside, watching the sunset, looking at a field, or over a forest, in a park or a tree outside your apartment.
So, to start, as you are heading to your sit spot, enter into this space slowly and mindfully. Move into the area as if there are wildlife all around you (because there is), and gently enter into the scene. Once seated, clear your mind, slow the breath, and begin to acquaint yourself with your new surroundings. It can take time to get to know nature, to understand the patterns so do not beat yourself up if you are not overwhelmed by a connection. Take the time to notice your body, the aches, the thoughts, the breath and allow yourself to settle. If you need to close your eyes for bit, go ahead and do so. It is OK if you cannot fully relax or turn off your racing thoughts, even a little bit is fantastic. By the way, if you practice meditation, it is not about turning off your thoughts, because you can't, it is about becoming familiar with them.
Start with the senses touch, smell, hearing, taste and seeing. Feel the grass or the plants that are around you. Feel the air and the humidity around you. Smell the air, the plants and even the ground. Does it smell humid, flowery, or even moldy? Can you smell that rain is coming soon?
My favorite is to link hearing with seeing, especially with your eyes closed. For example, wide-angled vision is a gift of human perception. Stretch your hands out wide and notice how far out you can go and still see your hands when you are looking forward. This is our peripheral vision. Now, close your eyes but push your powers of perception to see and hear just as far and wide as if your eyes are open. Notice what comes to your ears. See if you can notice the space between all of the birds and the insects. Notice the highest pitch insect and the lowest. What else can you hear? If all of this is overwhelming, just listen patiently, with practice, you will observe more than you thought was possible.
Now to kick it up a notch, focus on what is happening around you. Some possible questions to ask yourself and observe are
What are the trees doing? Is it windy? How are they reacting?
What are the birds doing? Are they agitated, aggressive or calm?
What other animals or insects are around? What is the level of activity in general?
It is about paying attention, not zoning out! Observe what is there, stay quiet and stay still. Consider this a bonding exercise with mother earth.
Activities with Families and Kids
This is a great way to introduce young kids to nature as well, and even teenagers. I have practiced it with both and it is surprising what they will come back and tell you that they noticed. Here are a few activities you can do for yourself, invite your child to do it or better yet, do it together!
Start with just a couple of minutes and increase the time each time you sit. It takes time to get used to observing nature, and noticing that are indeed things to observe.
Practice having a lookout while setting up a fire (backyard or camping), choose the right place to hang out, perhaps even creating a fort.
Practice hide and go seek along the trail or backyard. The longer you have to go find your child, the longer they are sitting quietly. They learn how to be still, silent, and blend in with their environment.
Sprinkle bird seed on or near yourself to see if you can stay so still birds will come visit.
Introduce a journal, ruler, magnifying glass, etc. Have kids write about their experience in observation. Break up each spot into different goals before combining them all together, such as observing only:
Finding items that used to be alive
Hearing, seeing, touching, or smelling
How shadows are forming
Where insects are crawling or climbing
What are the birds are doing
Then sit and reflect with them or with yourself. This can all be done within 10 minutes to start.
I have many sit spot stories from amazing things I have had the privilege of witnessing in quiet isolation. I will not go through all of them here but I will share my favorite experiences. The first memorable time when I was sitting in the woods, next to a seasonal creek in Texas, and I felt apart of the woods. It could be the start of when I really felt the connection to Texas opening, like any relationship. I noticed the squirrels burying pecan nuts in the dirt, the gray tree frog hiding in the bark, the red-tailed shoulder calling through the trees quieting the forest and one of my favorite things of all, the wind gently sliding through the leaves, brushing the sky and cascading slivers of light all over the forest floor. Nothing extraordinary, just the woods, and my breath in the same space.
Then there are the moments of momentous quiet and solitude. Enough for a red fox to wonder by, a group of deer strolling by, and a moose sloshing on by all without paying any attention to me.
However, as grandiose as those moments are, it is always about observing and becoming apart of the surroundings as we once were. Connecting to the earth but also connecting to ourselves. So I invite you to turn on your curiosity and wonder and start building a relationship with our home.