Secret SpotsNature-based Soul Renewal
Secret Spots: An Introduction
The purpose of this Secret Spot Challenge is to connect people to nature for a salve and salvation through a sequence of forays outside, to one place, over and over again. Getting to know this place, becoming intimate with it, watching it change.
“Secret spots” is a commitment, a series of delightful experiences, an adventure into (soul and) nature (through the heart of our soul). Secret spots provide an anchor and experiential template for exploring nature, and for teaching nature awareness and naturalist skills to people of all ages. I learned from Jon Young at Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) in 2001 (wow!). I had the great joy of immersing into the philosophy of the Art of mentoring at WAS, which was a potent weave of naturalist skills and spirituality. It was here that the magic of the Secret Spot experience unfolded.
Through the Secret Spot processes presented here, we recommit to
–remembering that Earth is trustworthy
–attuning to the fascinating heart-warming language of birds
–amping up our awareness, through observation with all the senses, of the magic of earth
–(re)discovering the spirit of nature.
Secret Spot Assignment # 1: Finding a Potent Spot
The art (and science) of our secret spot practice begins when we endeavor to find a place that we feel solid about revisiting on a repeated basis. The secret spot holds its magic and powerful teachings through our increasingly attuned attention to the details and broad stroke tapestry of our place. We watch how our secret spot changes over time, as we change, as the seasons and weather changes, as plants and animals and life proceeds along their native trajectories over time and space.
Qualities to notice when selecting a potent secret spot:
1. Convenient for us to get to on regular basis
2. Feels interesting, safe, comfortable to be at
3. Has some elements in it that allow us to “hide”, tuck in or blend in with it. Sometimes this can be simply the shelter offered by a tree branch or a shrub or stone.
4. Offers some periods of quiet, or at least reduced noise that you can “hear around”. Bird sounds and other vocal animals provide for expanding our skills in nature and our inward journey, so being able to hear them at least somewhat, even if obscured by city noise, is necessary. I know people whose secret spot is on a park bench in a busy city, so there is lots of room. Perhaps you might be more interested in studying humans…
5. Edges and Interfaces: Really interesting, dynamic species-rich secret spots are often located where two or more different habitats meet. Numerous ecological studies have shown that species diversity in significantly greater at “ecotones”—where two vegetation types meet. In fact there are many species of plants and birds that survive best at the edges or interfaces of habitats.
Hidden Lake, where I live, has at least 5 different habitats (examples of what I mean by habitat) that intersect: wetland forest, dense upland forest, pasture, cultivated landscape, riverside & lakeside (riparian) vegetation.
Go Outside! and…
…Set aside an hour or more for your excursion. When you go out to find this spot, be prepared, bringing water with you. Make sure you have the clothes and shoes on that you want to move and be outside in. Just take you. Do leave your dog at home. Also strongly suggested: leave your phone at home (unless doing so would make you feel unsafe).
So once you find your spot, sit down. Notice what you notice—about you, about what is around you. Notice what catches your eye. What do you hear? Smell? See? Feel? On this excursion, refrain from taking notes, so you aren’t distracted by messing with pen and paper. This will also help train you to make mental notes. Just. Sit. Notice.
Know that you may shift around somewhat (I know I have), but do the Goldie Locks thing, and find the one that’s just right. Then you can launch more deeply into the exercises, ceremonies and processes to come.
Do be safe.
When you get home or back to work, get your journal out. Write about what you noticed, how it felt, what you remember, what left an impression, caught your eye. Where did your thoughts go?
Then Check this space shortly for your next assignment.
Secret Spot Assignment # 2: Texture, Color, Shapes
I picked out and went to my secret spot today. Wow, it was a place on our land I had never sat. And it ticked all the boxes, but really, in my heart…wonderful.
Here are some thoughts and the next assignment.
This next assignment is about using our sight to take in the textures, colors, shapes of all features of our secret spots. Letting the splendor come into our sight sense…however narrow or wide the diversity and richness of our secret spots. It is April…many of these aspects are going to change over the course of time.
The textures, colors, shapes of all features of our spots are physical elements of habitat. “Habitat” provides the living, sleeping, nesting, resting, perching, feeding, mating, monitoring, watching, hunting structures for the species, seen and unseen, that inhabit, will inhabit or did inhabit our secret spots. Elements of habitat can be built (human-made) or natural. Fences, shrubs, herbs, trees, stones, walkways, decks, dirt mounds, moss, +, all provide some kind of resource for species to utilize. They can alter the temperature, wind, and moisture regimes which affect growth and sheltering; they can provide hiding places, hunting opportunities, food buffets, mating locations, etc. for oh so many animals (BTW—insects are technically animals), microbes, and other beings. (okay we will address the divas and faeries a little later).
SO, ASSIGNMENT # 2:
Go to your s. spot; this time, take your journal (leave your phone, unless it is needed for crucial or emergency communication).
Open your “observation window”…this is the span of time that you are setting aside for the assignment. This part of the practice is optional, but often helps A-types begin and end in an organized fashion.
Gaze around first in a very general, wide angle-vision type of way (will be discussing this later, at this juncture you can simple intuit what I mean). Notice big shapes first, and their colors & textures, then start narrowing your focus at a finer level. Colors, shapes, textures of plants, flowers and leaves of plants, tree bark, branching patterns. How these plants are arranged with respect to each other around you? Are they random, clumped, regularly spaced? Colors, shapes, textures of built features—fences, houses, porch steps, etc. How are these arrange in relationship to natural features. Bare ground, leafy debris, grasses, etc.?
Notice how the light is hitting these habitat features—natural and built—at this time of day. How/is there movement of elements there? Come back at a different time of day and notice.
Take notes, draw…
I noticed at some point after 30 minutes I had the impulse to leave (I am ADD, which is good for noticing things, but not so good at sustained tasking). You may have an original impulse to leave. I encourage you to notice that, and then stick with it. Notice the next things that come into your awareness when you decide to stay…when I did this, new things came into my awareness, and I relaxed a little more deeply, because I decided to “give this to myself”. This gift of being outside and being. There was a resonance of expansion…it was quite touching.
This staying beyond the impulse to leave is going to be important when we get into bird language and how it provides feedback about our state of being, probably beginning with sit spot assignment #4.
Secret Spot Assignment # 3: Questioning
We are observers and inquirerors and always want to know “what is that _______”?
Especially if one is not a birder or a plant specialist…the “what is it?” question can be frustrating and lead to a dead end.
Jon Young, promoter of the secret spot practice, would say that once we know the name of a thing—a bird or plant, eg.—a door closes. “Oh that’s a blah blah…” and then we are off to the next thing with the illusion that knowing its name is the same as knowing it. So, we are asking to go deeper than that.
When I was leading young people in the outdoors, I invited my learners to do their own naming. When they came across a plant, insect, bird, they could name it whatever they wanted, with a suggestion that some characteristic that stood out should lead the naming. “Swamp edgie”…”brown darter”…”white-striped back crawler”. (In fact, I let them make up their own personal names for the day—this released them from their teachers’ opinions of and identities for them…they expanded significantly under these freer conditions).
For this secret spot assignment, we watch this propensity, and pivot to a different question or two. For plants, insects, birds, you can name them whatever you want, but then ask “what is it doing?” (birds, insects). Is it feeding? Looking for mate? Gathering for/building a nest/shelter? Storing food?
For plants, “how well is it growing here? Is it in a spot that it looks like it might like, with lots of light, water, room, or not so well, crowded? Or perhaps it likes the shade. Did it get there naturally or was it planted? What kinds of other plants are growing around it? What might eat it? Use it for some other function (shelter, nesting?) is it going to flower? When, I wonder?
So we are wondering about the life of these creatures, beings.
Jon Young called for us to ask 3 Sacred Questions:
I. What am I observing? (while it could be some organism, the organism is also doing something, displaying some pattern of being, in relationship with other organisms and their environment)
II. What is this telling me? (this leads us into relational information; and we can totally make up a story about what we are observing. The faeries might even be involved!)
III. What deeper meaning can I find in this? For example, how is this a reflection of what is happening within me? How am I sprouting out of the ground? Chirping incessantly? In need of some space?
Enjoy this as a jumping off point for some introspection, poetry, painting or drawing…a nature story.
Stay tuned for Secret Spot Assignment #4 and the Art of Invisibility!