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The Power of Place

Article by Bryan Berghoef, June 2019 eNews

Sitting in my new backyard office shed, I hear the birds chirping around me and look out over the misty flower fields out my window, and I feel a sense of peace. The spaces and places we spend our time in matter. It is an old small barn from the 1800’s that my wife found on Craigslist, that we, along with a lot of help from friends, dismantled and reconstructed in our backyard. The outside looks much the same as it did previously, decade after decade. On the inside we painted the walls a light gray, put in white trim and a row of large white bookshelves, with lots of windows for natural light. Before this, my office was a desk tucked away in the corner of my bedroom—meaning I had minimal space for books, papers or any sort of organization. The lack of sufficient space in which to work was taking a mental toll of which I was only vaguely aware.

Once we moved into our new shared office space in the backyard shed, my wife and I were both so grateful to have a clean, bright, open space in which to work, with views of large bookshelves, our new shed furniture, and windows onto trees and fields. There is space here to breathe. To dream. To create. I couldn’t believe the difference in how I felt getting to my desk each day that simply a change of location had provided.

Space matters, and place matters.

I just returned home from a long weekend in Telluride, Colorado. Sweeping vistas out the windows of the rugged stone and wood home we stayed in took one’s breath away. Despite being late May, we were greeted in Telluride by a blanket of fresh snow, only to have the next day provide a brilliant blue sky and warming temperatures, which combined for an awe-inspiring (and not that cold) setting. Even better, we were actually staying in the higher altitude town of Mountain Village, which meant we took a glass-enclosed gondola ride down into Telluride itself each day. This gave us serene moments of floating bliss as we gazed out at the snow-covered peaks and valleys around us.

Simply being in nature filled us with a sense of energy, connection, and oneness. John Muir put it this way: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” He is not wrong.

Yet why, in our day-to-day lives, do we seem to lack such connection?

Muir hypothesizes: “Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” By entering into nature, we breathe it in, we let it flow in and through us. Stepping on mountain rocks, traversing meadows, stepping in snow—not just looking at it, breathing the thinner mountain air, all of these experiences do something in us and to us.

Psychologists note that being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Muir puts it more poetically: “The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”

Psalm 95:4-5, as rendered by Nan Merrill, echoes Muir’s sentiments with these words: “The depths of the earth belong to Love; the height of the mountains as well. The sea and all that is in it, the dry land and air above were created by Love.”

So I am back home from the mountains. And as I set at my desk, here in the shed, I can hear the birds singing, I can see the trees greening, and I notice the breeze gently playing in the grassy meadow. And here, in this lovely space, dreaming of beautiful places, something life-giving stirs within me.

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