Long ago, in the year 2002, on a farm in Asbury, New Jersey I learned two things that would forever change my life. I was taking a nature awareness and survival skills class from Tom Brown Jr. of the Tracker School. We were standing on a sandy road lined with large trees and an open field on one side. In this place I learned about something called Wide Angle Vision, a way of relaxing your eyes to take in more of your surroundings.
The instructors told us to fix our eyes on the horizon and relax our focus allowing the edges of our sight to expand. I was blown away. Suddenly, the world came alive. Without moving my eyes I could see leaves blowing in the wind, a butterfly traveling by, and the humans around me moving. I was shocked at the pulse of life. It filled me up in a way I didn’t recognize but liked. This wide-angle vision thing was like a bomb of inspiration, but the next lesson we received brought it home for me.
Later during the week Tom Brown introduced us to another idea that would forever change me. It was called the Sit Spot and it was a place, we were told, where we could practice our wide angle vision.
The Sit Spot is a routine that cultivates awareness and connection. In it’s simplest form it is this: a place outside where you sit and observe nature and yourself daily. Most adults had one when they were a kid, whether they knew it or not. It was the special and often secret place in the woods behind the house, in a backyard tree house, or along a neighborhood creek. Adults were not allowed, unless they had the password.
When I was a child, about 10 or so, I vowed never to grow up. Adults, I declared, were boring and only talked about sickness and death. I said I would never become one of them, ever. In some ways, this vow has served me well as I’ve aged and is the reason children and I get along. These days many adults I know meditate. They sit on a cushion in their homes and observe their thoughts which, like so many of us, are often neurotic and involve heavy doses of limitations and fear. Me, I sit outside with my neurosis. I allow the suns rays to penetrate my over active mind. I let the cherry blossoms floating by in the light wind bring me back to the present moment. The scent of cedar trees and cottonwood blossoms in the heavy night air remind me of what it is to feel alive. The Sit Spot is my place of meditation. And it suits that child in me who, beyond all odds, refuses to believe the world is full of tedium, of tasks to simply be completed, and only sickness and death.
Personally, the routine of Sit Spot has been and still is a tool that helps me feel more connected to the wider world and therefore allows me to approach my life dilemmas with tons of resources. I have the universe at my finger tips, all I have to do is pay attention.
I recently found out about a teacher in Minnesota who incorporated the Sit Spot routine into his high school classes. His students keep a journal regarding their feelings and insights as they sit once per week for an entire season. Their observations are very touching:
Sit spot gives me time to think on my own. When I see something that makes me wonder, instead of Googling it, I’m forced to ponder it and draw my own conclusions, making an educated guess on how it works. Which turns out to be right more than I thought my predictions would. -David B. 12th Grade
I look forward to 2nd block every day and each week I look forward to Thursday [sit spot day]. I’ve learned so much because I’ve been so excited and eager to learn…for once. –Ali
My mom is getting mad because I keep coming home and my socks are all dirty on the INSIDE! –Nicole
Death is everywhere, but it is not a bad thing, because it’s part of different cycles that keep this world growing. –Ben
If that isn’t enough to get some tears welling up in your eyes, I don’t know what will. These students are learning. Not just mechanistic learning that serves society, but a type of learning that is liberating. I call it personal experience. The simple act of sitting alone in nature teaches about nature itself, but also gives space for us to work with the more challenging questions of life. It is a huge source of creativity and inspiration.
So, are you inspired yet? Interested in finding a sit spot of your own? Starting August 1st I am organizing a 30-Day Sit Spot Challenge hosted by Kamana.org and Wilderness Awareness School. Each year we’ve had over 500 people from around the world sign-up.
Here’s how it works: Sit at your spot everyday in nature for 30 days in a row for at least 20 minutes. The challenge officially begins August 1st and ends August 30th. When you sign up you’ll receive daily emails to help guide and inspire you as you explore.
Click on the link below and then take the next step, join us! You won’t regret it. If you’re a novice sit-spotter this challenge provides an incredible way to get some support as you begin a new routine that very well may change your life too. If you’ve been sitting for years this a great way to connect with a wider community of nature enthusiasts.