Where We Are, & Where We Most Belong
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
The following piece by Wolf is excerpted from our book The Healing Terrain, about the healing and inspirational powers of nature, and the nature of healing… describing how to find the land that most calls to us, and providing tools needed to deeper connect with the land no matter where we live. You can order a copy of The Healing Terrain on the Bookstore page at: www.PlantHealer.org
Some of us think that we have no roots, but it simply isn’t true. We are at worst uprooted, our roots torn from the soil as we struggled to keep up with restless, roving parents, or jerked free by our own hands when we left home to break out on our own. We are not rootless. Our roots dangle out the bottoms of our skirts and trousers as we drag them behind us down streets and hallways, their probing tips grasping at the ground at our feet wherever we are, tendrils seeking the stability and nourishment that nothing but an intimate sense of place can provide, the rootedness that makes the fulfillment of purpose possible.
All that we do occurs in a place, and is colored and influenced by it. We and our healing practice are most effective in relationship to a home, with a firm base to work from, in close relationship to a specific place, as expressions of its character, informed by its history and nature. Whatever our healing practice, where we’re situate is to some degree either helping or hindering our work, our development, accomplishments and results. This is true whether we have lived somewhere for only a short while or for all of our lives, and even if we work out of a handmade gypsy healer’s trailer that seems to be always on the road. It is important, then, that we learn how to deepen relationship with wherever we happen to currently be… and just as importantly, that we someday find and develop an in-depth relationship with that one particular place where we can feel most ourselves, most needed or effective, and most fulfilled.
Wherever We’re Situated
“To be enlightened he did not have to leap to someplace else; he only had to come hard against the ground where he already stood.” –Scott Russell Sanders
In the past, humans often lived for many generations in a single region. Every child would by a certain age have become familiar with the land, and with both its dangers and its bounty. Even historic peoples who migrated annually, generally did so in a seasonal loop that took them back to certain cherished locations season after season, and developed a relationship with inspirited place that was nothing less than intimate. This was evident in their attachment to particular mountains, rivers, springs and groves, in their myths and tales, and in their adoption of signature animals and plants of the area as their allies or totems. It was evident, as well, in each culture’s collected body of information, a veritable instruction manual about how to live a healthy and sustainable existence in the mountains, deserts, canyons or shorelines that they called their homelands. It was important that even long range migrants, scouts and explorers did not travel so far, so fast, making sure that their knowledge of the land balanced rather than was outstripped by new discoveries. They were careful to introduce themselves to new areas at the frontiers of their travels, becoming students of the diverse ecosystems of each new valley or forest, of each regions’s spirit and needs as well as its fruits and advantages. The extent of their explorations and health of the tribe were both dependent on its members knowing things like:
• Regional vagaries of weather, and the means for shelter.
• Where the nearest and best sources of potable water were.
• Which locally growing plants and resident wildlife were edible, and the names and medicinal uses of the native plants.
• The time of year to harvest such plants and animals, and the signs to watch out for that might indicate a decline in population and possibly dangerous over-harvesting.
Recent recorded history, however, is more a chronicle of the invader and the exile, the ambitious and the dispossessed, the product of distracted or oblivious surface movers more than conscious travelers or determined settlers. Modern society institutionalizes and glorifies a transitional lifestyle, one symbolized by the “necessity” of vehicles, defined by perpetual movement from one place, one situation, one occupation or employer to the next, house after house after house in the absence of a home. And it’s not simply that we move on so quickly, but that our contact with each situation, each place, can be so insubstantial and superficial. Sightseers fly or drive many hundreds of miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, to spend a recorded average of five minutes at its edge before heading back to their car or hotel. In these times, doctor’s evaluations are generally brief and template based. lovemaking is often abridged and rote, meals rushed and and only partially tasted, conversations facile as well as fast paced. Our kind have become increasingly out of touch with our wild, instinctual, dreaming selves, with the actual elements of existence and the natural world we were born of.
“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magical connection of the solstice and equinox. That is what is wrong with us. We are bleeding at the roots.” -D.H. Lawrence
These days, there are well meaning people barely able to engage in a meaningful way at all – not with their sequential partners, adjustable belief systems, healing traditions, vocations or places where we live – before shifting to the inevitable next person or position, place or phase.
The healthy alternative is to connect deeply with where we are and what we are doing, whether it is where we want to be, or imagine we “have” to be… to create a reciprocal energetic relationship wherever we are situated, by:
• Being ultra-present and aware.
• Noticing what actually is, both pleasant and unpleasant, rather than imposing our assumptions or impressions on the world around us.
• Continuing to fulfill our role, purpose and mission, even if the situation or location make it hard.
No matter how temporary our residency, the self-assignment is the same: active relation.
It may be that you genuinely know you’re not living and working in a place you can truly love, or one that fails to nurture your authenticity, growth and becoming. It may not be rural enough to feed your connection to nature, or be to rural to support your service or mission. You may sense a need to get away from the area’s energy, or feel mysteriously and irresistibly drawn to somewhere else – somewhere you came from, once visited, or perhaps have only glimpsed in books or in a dream. If so, you need to heed the call, pack your belongings and follow your heart and the signs to a different home, move your clinic to the neighborhood where something tells you there is the most possibility and need, relocate in the bioregion that calls to you so plaintively. That said, up until that moment it would be best for you to do all that you can to notice, value, connect to and learn from the place where you currently work, practice, and reside. You may only plan to be somewhere for a single Summer, but the healthy imperative is still to inhabit the place consciously and intensely, not passing through blindly or unaffected, but learning from it, drawing from it, and giving back to it in healthy dynamic relationship.
Some ways of connecting include:
• Noticing, identifying, studying and interfacing with the wild nature that exists even in the most urbanized of environments, from an unbridled rain torrent and the birds nesting in the hollow street signs, to those outlaw medicinal “weeds” growing up out of nearly every foot of cement-free earth.
• Studying the areas human as well as natural history, native mythologies and folklore.
• Sensing and engaging its residents spirits, or its overall ambient spirit, energy and character.
• Finding useful ways to contribute to the health and well being of the land and its lifeforms.
Rebecca, a maker of herbal preparations and friend of ours, currently makes her abode in Los Angeles, a city bordered with lovely mountains on those days when the ocean winds have blown its poisonous smog onward to Phoenix. Conceived in Korea, born in England and raised in Scotland, she has reason for being ambivalent when it comes to her place in the world. She didn’t like the arid hills of L.A. when she arrived fresh from the green isle, and judging by her professed needs, aesthetics and dreams it could never be her true home. That said, over the years she has opened her eyes to the beauty of the coastal range, and thanks to her study and gathering of medicinal plants she has come to notice and appreciate not only the species in the threatened wildlands outside the city limits, but also the heroic herbs occupying the edges of its urban parking lots like green protestors at a “grow-in”. She may or may not find her way to the oak covered mountain and supportive community that might serve her best, but she has found the reasons and ways for loving and building healthy relationship with the land where she is.
The consequences of such relationship with place can include personal healing, an enriched and deepened identity, heightened presence and awareness, expanded holistic understandings, your protection or restoration of the land, a more powerful healing practice with more accurate assessments and tailored recommendations, and a greater savoring of life’s everyday meals and moments.
Where We Belong
“These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.” -Robert Michael Pyle
Every region and place in the world has its own distinctive details and topography, orientation and design, character and personality, flavor and feel, it’s own delineating mix of animal and plant species, advantages and drawbacks, as well as its own blend of human elements such as the makeup of the population, the appearance of a neighborhood, the viability of a business location. While you can take healthy advantage of anywhere you are, some places will feed your heart and spirit more than others, some need your attentions and loyalties more, a few will prove exceptionally opportune for your personal or business aims… and only one place can be said to be optimum for your mission and your fulfillment, one place where your efforts are most powerful and where you feel most wholly yourself, most alive, most empowered, most realized.
The word “situation” comes from the Latin “situs,” meaning “site.” There is an optimal site, an ideal position from which to act upon the world at any given time, and where we can best realize the benefits. A most compelling or emboldening landscape, providing us with inspiration that we then pass on to our clients, customers, readers or students. A most effective place to do our most important and personal business. A community and culture that we can most relate to. Sometimes the situation and place is temporary and will need to change. Most powerfully, is when the most optimum setting for our lives and work calls us to not only remain but to make a lifetime commitment, not just a site but a home.
A good example is our friend Julie, founder of Humboldt Herbals. Her move to the coastal forests of northern California felt not only fortuitous, but a calling. While she was new to the area, it somehow felt familiar – like a return, a reuniting, a homecoming. The community there is full of folks interested in living close to the land, in natural health and stewardship, resulting in her store turning into a location for consciousness raising and life sharing, live music and social events, as well as somewhere to obtain plant medicines and advice on their use. Even more significant, was the effect that the environs had on Julie, providing affirmation for her sensitivity and vision, inspiration to make her dreams come true, examples of right-living and wildness that she can heed and emulate, an ecosystem that she readily fit into like nowhere else. Proof that she had found home, can be heard in her writing voice, as Humboldt County’s wondrous mountains and vulnerable rivers, precious forests and healing herbs speak through her.
There are a zillion “reasonable” excuses for not taking chances, making changes, moving from where we are, or in other ways following our hearts to such a home. But unless we’re locked up in jail, we get to choose our situations and need not be victims or prisoners of them. We have responsibility – the ability to respond – much more healthy than entrapping obligations. We can each take responsibility for finding and then planting our roots in the town, bioregion, even continent where we can be most at home.
It’s likely that we currently live and work in the wrong place if:
• Our place and purpose are at odds.
• We feel “out of place,” anxious, ill at ease.
• We feel like we can’t be our true selves.
• We tend to cite a job, convenience or promises to family as the primary reasons for living where we do.
• We rationalize where we’re at by saying “it’s only 100 miles from my favorite plant-gathering spot” or “only a few hours from the beach… when the traffic isn’t backed up.”
• We like our house, but are uncomfortable with the surrounding area.
• We put up posters or paintings of distant exotic places on your walls, while usually keeping the windows or curtains closed.
• We are more familiar with the herbs we purchase than with the local weeds.
• Our customers or clients can sense our discomfort or dissatisfaction.
• We are regularly more excited to leave on a trip, than we are to get back.
To the contrary, we may have discovered our place if:
• We feel called most clearly, loudly, insistently.
• Place and possibility, intention and means, magic and design truly align.
• It serves rather than conflicts with our life’s purpose.
• We are most nourished, inspired, excited, connected.
• We feel most our true selves, and we don’t feel we have to look or act different in order to earn membership.
• There is not only the opportunity to do our most meaningful work, but where the situation and energies of the land itself serve to enable, deepen and increase the effectiveness of our efforts.
• Whenever we’re daydreaming or dreaming, we picture yourself there, enjoying its urban character or rural nature, it’s southerness or mountain vibe.
• We already live there, and any direction we leave in feels like the wrong direction.
• The first time we visit it, it feels like we’ve been there before.
• It has a particular landmark we’re attached to, a memorable mountain or certain species of flower that we’d hate to wake up without seeing.
• We can’t talk about where we live without getting all excited or teary.
• We’d find some way to stay in the area, even if our job folded or our house burned down to the ground.
• We regularly feel like opening up the curtains and windows, or constantly feel drawn outside.
• Our clients, customers or students sense our groundedness, and benefit from our place-based knowledge, rootedness, and continual personal blossoming.
• We are generally more excited to get back home, than we are to leave on even a fun trip away.
Seeding & Rooting
“The indestructibility of these associations conveys a sense of permanence that nurtures the heart…. and cripples one of the most insidious of human anxieties, the one that says you don’t belong here, you are unnecessary.” -Barry Lopez
For the longest time, our ancestors tended to cast its seeds close to the trunk, so to speak, where group tradition and personal lifelong familiarity ensured a comforting sense of belonging on or near the lands of our forbears. Whenever they departed on their great journeys of exploration, their hearts were torn by the separation, and they sang the praises of the homes they left behind. The greatest of the tragic myths invoke the anguish and longing that follows lengthy separation from one’s cherished homeland, the place where they were known.
These days, the seeds of our kind are more like winged, aspirations carried aloft by the prevailing winds, touching down time and again without stopping, finally caught up in the undergrowth of a distant grove. Those few that sprout usually doing so far out of sight of the parent tree, the culture and place of their origins. But like all airborne seeds, once we feel landed — delivered to the land — we adhere to the fabric of place, work our way down to the earth through the turnings of the weather. When the nature of the soil is just right, the conditions perfect, we extend a taproot deep into the body of place, an anchor securing our very being from the forces of distraction and dissipation.
One of the saddest things I have heard was from a dear woman who said she felt bad for staying where she is at. The essential lesson is not only that we all need to assess and evaluate how well our homes fit us and serves us, but that we connect to the dirt where we stand, love the Earth that flourishes beneath our structures and thrives in our yards and parks, to feel at home in our natural bodies and the region where we live… to notice, cherish, and savor place anyplace.
If you are where your heart calls to you to be, or if you have made a compromise and choice to remain, the work is to connect, realize, root, and nourish. If, however, you feel out of place where you are, then I must ask you to consider change. Heed your dreams, scour maps like an excitable hunter of treasure, consider every vacation an opportunity to uncover the holy grail of true home. Pay attention to your desires, your needs, and the almost magnetic pull in certain directions that requires no rational explanation. Use your imagination, and place yourself in the landscapes you imagine. If it doesn’t feel right, move on from wherever you’re at, to the ideal site for your becoming all you can be.
Even the wandering Healer, given to roam, benefits from a connection and commitments to home. This is because we are most healed – and most able to help heal others – when we reach out and engage the world from a carefully chosen base. And how much we and our healing practices are able to branch and bloom, stretch and reach, depends on how deeply and firmly we root.
Tips For Cultivating Sense of Place
I: Directions For Rooting
• Make a detailed list of the compelling personal, practical, aesthetic, emotional or spiritual reasons that you live where you do, including:
1) Practical considerations.
2) The ways that you enjoy it, or feel related to it.
3) The ways that you don’t like it, aren’t served by it, or are alienated by it.
4) How your purpose and aims may benefit from it.
5) The ways that it may be obstructing, distracting or delaying your purpose and aims.
• Make another list, this time of those characteristics you think could make a place ideal for your fullest expression, satisfaction, service and purpose. Beneath each item, please:
1) Describe the particular ways that each characteristic might benefit your growth and healing, contribute to your wholeness or growth, help define your purpose or propel you forward.
2) Describe the degree to which the place where you live (whether the bioregion, the neighborhood or the specific house) does or does not afford you such characteristics and benefits.
• Weigh your responses to the above two questions and measure them against each other. If your current location is possibly serving you and your purpose best, then there is nothing for you to do in this regard except:
1) Become ever more familiar and intimate with the spirit and processes of the land and its natural and human communities.
2) Create conscious relationship with place, finding ways to receive its benefits and to give back.
3) Help establish human community and lifestyle that increases consciousness of and caring for the natural world we are all a part of.
4) Sense, savor and celebrate!
• If you determine that it is more injurious than helpful and healthful, you will usually realize that there are no practical considerations sufficient to justify your staying where you are.
• And if it does not optimally serve your true self, spirit and purpose, your health, mission and satisfaction require you begin taking substantial steps towards finding and then moving to and consciously inhabiting a place, region and situation that will… by:
1) Recalling and deeply considering past place-related feelings and experiences.
2) Researching bioregions and habitats based on you needs, feelings and purpose as you described them above. Ask yourself questions like: How do different kinds of weather affect you? What combination of weather patterns and seasons makes you feel most yourself, invigorated or affirmed, inspired or comforted nHow populated of a place would you feel best in, if a job wasn’t the number one criteria? Do you feel best in sight of mountains, out in the wide open spaces, nestled in a canyon, within smell of an ocean, or? What regions of the United States or the world do you at the moment feel most drawn to, if any?
3) Exploring any such bioregions, perhaps making weekend trips to feel out (more than “think about”) where you best belong, or commit all future vacations to taking long (expensive or not) trips to the places that may be calling to you most clearly.
4) Researching the practical means to make a move in the direction of such a place.
5) Doing whatever it takes to find and reinhabit your place, no matter how unprofitable, inconvenient, stressful for your friends and loved ones, or alarming to your parents, and don’t let anything or anyone dissuade you from what you know you need to do or where you sense you need to be.
6) Strive to be – and practice being – more at home wherever you’re at. And at the same time, be constantly mindful of where you can be most yourself, the place or places that call to you and stir your passion and resolve. Be ever mindful of – and a student of – where you are now, while ever moving either towards or deeper into where you most belong.
To read more about home, nature, and sense of place, order your own copy of The Healing Terrain on the Bookstore page at: www.PlantHealer.org
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