Greetings and Happy New Year. Hope your holidays were wonderful!
My heart is full of gratitude for all of the loving interactions that I was blessed with over the holidays. But my body is a bit weary from long days full of transitions, traveling, and eating sugary (but delicious!) foods.
As I embrace this new year, I find myself yet again setting the intention to slow down and spend more time in nature. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of spending way more time on the computer than I’d like to admit.
When I first started out on my nature awareness journey as a student at Wilderness Awareness School, our first assignment was to find a “sit spot”— a place in nature to visit regularly to take in the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. A place to wholeheartedly practice gratitude and nature awareness.
I will never forget the first time I came home from class and decided to find a sit spot near my house. At first, I was really excited. I walked outside and very intently marched down the street to a patch of nearby woods that my neighbor owned. I found a spot to sit on a log, underneath a Hemlock tree.
After a couple of minutes of sitting, my monkey mind kicked in, and I found myself getting really distracted. I noticed what was going on around me for a few seconds, but then my mind would drift to my endless to-do list. I thought about all of the e-mails I needed to send. I thought about what I was going to eat for dinner. I thought about getting to a yoga class. I thought and thought and thought. I became impatient and finally thought to myself, What am I doing here? What is the point of this? I wanted to connect to nature, but I didn't have patience or the focus to sit there doing nothing! I felt frustrated.
Suddenly, a furry, brown four-legged creature appeared from the tree that I was leaning up against. He started making crazy high-pitched noises at me.
“PEW PEW PEW!! PEW PEW PEW!!”
It took me by surprise. 'What the *#!% is that??', I thought to myself. I was new to the Pacific Northwest, and unfamiliar with this creature who looked like cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk.
At first, I thought it was cute. But pretty soon I got annoyed. He wouldn’t stop making noises at me. “PEW! PEW! PEW! PEW! PEW! PEW!” he screamed, as he scurried along the tree trunk and stared at me intently.
After what seemed like a half an hour (though it was probably only a few minutes) of this animal harassing me, I got up and walked back home. I was frustrated. This whole “sit spot” thing was not all that it was cracked up to be.
Though I was feeling resistant, I continued to visit my sit spot everyday. After all, it was big part of my “homework” for wilderness school.
Each day when I visited my sit spot, the events of that first visit seemed to repeat themselves. I would sit there and focus on my surroundings for a minute or two, but then my monkey-mind would reappear. Once again, I’d become impatient and distracted by my thoughts. And that same brown furry creature would come out from hiding and start screaming at me again. I was beginning to think that I needed to find a new spot!
One day, after chatting with some of my classmates and mentors about these struggles, I decided to go to my sit spot with a different attitude. I took my time to get there. Instead of marching down that path with such intensity, I fox-walked there very, very slowly and quietly. I used my “owl eyes” and “deer ears” to become more open and aware of my surroundings. I really tapped into my senses.
When I finally arrived at my sit spot, I made the choice to be there, instead of somewhere else. I chose to be patient. I didn't have that same resistance that I had in the past. I felt more peaceful. I had surrendered to the moment and to my senses. I was present, for the most part.
Suddenly, that same four-legged brown creature emerged from hiding once again. But this time was different. He didn't yell at me. He didn't scurry all around and fluff his tail up at me. Actually, he barely noticed me at first. And when he finally did notice me, he gave me a glance but then carried on his way, barely phased by my presence. It was as if he sensed that I was truly relaxed and present this time.
After that, visits to my sit-spot were much more enjoyable. Once I made the conscious decision to surrender to the experience of just sitting and being in the wilderness, I started to look forward to going to my sit spot everyday. I eventually figured out that the brown creature was not a chipmunk. It was a Douglas Squirrel, also known as a Chickaree, which just so happened to be my "Nature Name" at the time! Oh my, did that squirrel teach me some lessons!
I had some of the most incredible experiences at my sit spot that year. I had several close encounters with an owls and deer, and got to know the plants and the trees very well. I brought back exciting and insightful stories to Patrick, my mentors, and my classmates about my sit spot experiences. Natural mysteries presented themselves to me, and I developed the tools to pay attention, to look closely, and to solve some of those mysteries. A few of those mysteries remained unsolved, and perhaps they never will be. But that’s okay. I came to love that land like it was my home, like it was part of me.
One day, I walked to my sit spot and something was very different. That place that I knew and loved had drastically shifted. My neighbor who owned that patch of land had hired someone to brush-cut all of the shrubs and bushes so that her son could have a place to play paint ball. I was devastated! All of my favorite plants that I had “met” and learned about were gone, gobbled up by some machine! I considered those plants to be my friends. "What would the deer graze on? Where would the Towhees hang out? How did the squirrel feel about all of this??", I wondered with great concern.
I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I had felt so connected to that land. Although it hadn't been completely destroyed or built upon, it had been altered in a way that deeply affected me. Had I not been so connected to that place, I might not have cared so much. But that spot was my home. I felt grief wash over me.
Not long after that, I moved away to a nearby town and found a new sit spot. Although I’ve lived in many different places and I’ve had many different sit spots since, that first sit spot will always be near and dear to my heart. That spot—the plants, shrubs, trees, slugs, songbirds, owls, deer, and of course that squirrel!— taught me so many things, and gifted me with a compassion and connection to nature that I had never experienced before.
So . . . if you, like me, wish to slow down and spend more time in nature this year, I suggest finding a sit spot close to home, and visit it regularly.
Here is some sit spot wisdom, courtesy of my friend the Douglas Squirrel:
- The best sit-spot is the one that you actually go to. Your sit-spot doesn’t have to be deep in a pristine forest where there is no human impact whatsoever. The best sit-spot is one that you can actually get to easily and visit regularly. Find a spot against a tree in your yard. Or, just sit on your front porch.
- Leave your cell phone at home. Turns out, you really don’t need it after all. You may be thinking, But what if… or I’ll take it just in case. We live in a cell-phone centered culture. There is always the fear that if something were to go horribly wrong, if we don’t have our cell phone with us it could spell disaster. But if your sit-spot is close to your house (which it should be!) and if you always tell someone where you’re going, then chances are that it won’t be the end of the world if leave your cell phone at home. Try it, it will make all the difference as far as minimizing distractions.
- Slow down. Avoid walking like you’re on a serious mission to get your sit spot. Instead, slow down and consider the walking part to be part of the whole experience. The sit-spot routine begins as soon as you step out your door. I’ve had some of the greatest nature encounters while on the way to my sit spot. Slow down and take it all in. Going to your sit-spot is so much more than just another thing to cross off of your to-do list.
- Choose to be there. Once you’ve finally made it to your spot, choose to fully embrace the experience of sitting and observing nature. Sure, you are going to notice your monkey-mind kick in. And that’s okay. Just choose to observe those thoughts and then let them go. It’s not about the quantity of time that you spend at your spot, it’s about quality. Maybe you have only 5 minutes to go to your sit spot. Make the most of those 5 minutes. Observe your surroundings with deep curiosity. Choose to be there as fully as you can, rather than fixating on what you need to do when you get back home.
- Don’t forget to share your stories with others. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the sit spot routine. It’s so import to share your stories. Over and over again. With your friends, with your children, with anyone who will listen. Bring those stories to life with details. Humans love stories. We have been sharing stories with each other for thousands of years, hence our modern culture’s obsession with social media. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a community that was hungry for sit spot stories when I was first starting out on this nature-connection journey, and it made all the difference.
If you can’t find anyone at home who will listen to your sit-spot stories, please share them with Patrick and me! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or share on social media if that is more your style! We are @featherandfrond on facebook, instagram and twitter.
Well, there you have it folks, some sit spot wisdom from my Squirrel friend. Please comment below if you have your own sit spot wisdom to share!
Bellingham families, hope to see you at Deer and Fawn Day this Friday!