Have you ever felt that you didn’t belong to the place in which you live? In our modern way of living, it can be challenging to find generations of people who still live in the place they were born to. We move frequently, often the impetus is in search of resources, a better job, an education, or a curiosity to seek out and experience adventure. For many across the world, leaving home is not by choice. Throughout our human history people have been forced off of the land which they intimately tended, the land that is a part of who they are.
How do you we stay rooted and connected to place when we feel displaced from the intimate relationships we have forged with the lands who knew us as kin? And what if you never had an intentional relationship with the land? Is it possible to begin now? I believe we can, and that we must if we are to heal the grief that belies our increasing disregard for land and place.
Untethered To Place
I have been on the move most of my life. I was born at the edge of the Columbia River in Central Washington State. My family had lived here for just two generations, an adventurous lot of farmers and orchardists. When I was six years old we moved away from this small farming community in search of work. The spirit of this land stayed with me my entire life. As my father’s work required moving nearly every two years, and the divorce of my parents meant another move, I felt adrift and longed for the sagebrush landscape of what I considered my true home.
This small but powerful land of my birth became my anchor throughout many years of instability. She came to me in dreams, in my writing as a youth, and through the childhood summers when I would return to my grandparents vegetable garden, fruit trees and the song of the river. Throughout my life I was challenged to know why this land, this place had such a strong pull in my life. And although I spent less and less time there as I grew older I noticed that she continued to speak with and guide be from a far.
Where Do I Belong?
I thought at some point in my life that I would return to this land that called to me in my dreams. But as the world changed, so did the dynamics of this little farming community. With a struggling economy, a lesser demand for the wheat and apples farmed here, and an unplanned exodus of most of the young adults, this little town on the edge of great river became silent.
Although I never settled back into my hometown, I found a way to remain connected to that land that was a part of me while also creating deep reverence and connection to the lands where I would call home. At the heart of building connection to place is the willingness to explore with curiosity and wonder. I spent as much time as I could wandering through the forest, reading about the land, smelling the earth, listening to the rain, and staying in a state of childlike curiosity.
The Plant People Called Out To Me
The plants were my gateway into relationship with place. When I first began college I had no idea what I wanted to study. All that I knew was that I preferred to be in the wilds of nature. Without a clue or guidance of where to begin I dove into what was available to me, Forestry Science. Although is was readily apparent that my values conflicted with this career path, I was introduced to many native plants who became my friends.
This path led me to discover plant medicine. At the time all of this felt so random and accidental. No one in my family had ever exposed me to the world of eating whole foods, or working with plant medicine. Yet, here I stood. I would eventually find my way to Mexico and Central America with my child-like curiosity wanting to know more about the plants and the people who knew their secrets.
Twenty years later, this is what I have found to be true in creating belonging with place.
This is the single most important practice and way of being if you seek connection and belonging to place. Reciprocity is an exchange between two beings, and exchange that is mutually beneficial. Reciprocity is not self-serving or altruistic. It echoes our interconnectedness and interdependence on one another.
The next time you set intention to connect with place observe how it feels to enter into relationship with the land through the lens of reciprocity. What shifts within you? What do you notice about the place that you hadn’t before?
As a highly-sensitive introvert I have always struggled with boundaries. I was fearful to set them, unsure how to maintain them and felt that I was unkind if I upset someone by a boundary I had put in place.
I have suffered the effects of not setting and maintaining boundaries. It feels worse to not have boundaries, wouldn’t you agree? One thing that has helped me is to take the emotional aspect out of the boundary. I can now embrace it as an energetic quality that is protective to all involved. Boundaries provide a structure so the sacred can prosper.
Observe how your relationship to place shifts when you bring awareness to her boundaries. How do you introduce yourself to place if this is your first time meeting? Can you respectfully observe with love and patience before reaching out, touching, or taking? We are all too often in a rush to fulfill our agenda with the natural world. We know that building trust and a deep love among humans takes time, why would it be any different for our relationship to land and place?
As humans we are gifted with our ability to gather information through our senses. Even though we have access to these gifts, we seldom spend time developing them and often become dominant on one particular sense and unknowingly dismiss the wisdom of the others. A large part of trusting in our intuition is developing our sensory awareness.
When we practice engaging our sensory abilities we expand our ability for communication. To intimately belong to a place we must be able to attune to the sounds, tastes, smells, sights and feels. When the senses are awakened, we become grounded in the moment. This act of being fully present is what we all crave in relationship. To be seen and experienced in the here and now.
Wandering & Active Listening
One day it became extremely important for me to be referred to as someone who wanders versus someone who hikes. For me, this distinction meant that I engaged with place with curiosity and wonderment, and without expectation. To be a hiker felt too limiting in how I related to the land. I did not seek destinations to arrive at, there was no set agenda when I set off into the woods or desert land.
When I wander, I discover. This discovery process is always driven by a curiosity about the land, the animals, the insects and microbes, the weather and history of place.
With a heightened sensory awareness it becomes much easier to actively listen and attune with place. At each foot fall there are clues to reveal the essence of place. This is particularly evident when we invite in solitude. In solitude the land often becomes loud with story. When you actively listen you are guided in your wandering. An ancient language is revealed to you when you rest your body upon a stone. Place notices these gestures.
Receiving & Offering
The act of receiving can be challenging for many of us. It feels easier to be the giver than the receiver. But, if there is to be reciprocity, we must learn to receive with humility and grace. To receive we must allow the energetic exchange between place and person unfold. Through sacred boundaries, sensual awakening, and active listening it becomes a poetic process to receive.
When I wander I carry with me offerings that I can leave to the land, the elements, the animals and birds. My partner often clears out sand filled holes in the stones and fills them with water for the birds and wild animals of the land, we call them Raven holes. Sometimes it is a sprinkling of blue corn meal or simply a song of gratitude. Allow your intention to guide you.
In hope of creating a true sense of belonging we must return to place over the seasons and through our experience of time. In the process of returning a familiarity is created among you and the land. The land will remember you, the ravens will begin to greet you, knowing that you will be offering them much needed water. Because place is not static but antimate, change is always afoot. How intimate can you become with the land through the seasons? As long as we stay curious, humble, and attuned our longing to belonging with place will find its way home.
Field Research & History
Now that your senses are fully awakened, and you have begun a relationship with place it is time to dig into a deeper study. The place you are becoming familiar with has undergone significant geologic changes. How has the impact of humans, weather, and time contributed to the place you now know? The places that have the most impact on me energetically and spiritually are those that emanate great change in their being. Find living humans that might offer you stories of the land, read bio-regional field guides to better educate yourself about the flora and fauna, research recorded geologic changes. How does this contribute to your desire to connect with place?
We Are Inseparable From Place
It is always our choice how we engage with place, but the land knows, and will respond accordingly. I have noticed that if I am wandering, distracted by whirling thoughts and erratic emotions I can not access the spirit of place, I am unable to make contact to the beings and language that resides there. Our ability to connect with place, to belong to place must be a slow and intentional process. We cannot snap a photo, pose beside a sentient river and convince ourselves or others that we are connected with place. Be reverent, stay curious, and wander, ...returning often.
Hey Wise Womxn, I'm Adrienne
I help women answer the call for ancestral belonging so they can heal that place within that longs for deep connection and ancestral guidance.