September 3rd, 2015
My mind is whirling and I hardly know where to begin. Today was the second full day of this academic year and this evening was the first class for Making Peace With the Land. That class was the first time I have had in a week or more to stop and reflect, and I left with my mind nearly bursting with all the beautiful ideas that had been shared. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I have signed myself up for this semester.
I went to class at five tonight excited to be there but with no idea of what was to come. The soup, bread, cheese, and fruit filled me in a way that reminded me of home, especially when coupled with the grace we sang together. After our meal, we got together in small groups to share the story of one place where we feel truly connected to the land. I did not even have to think about that question – my family’s homestead and the surrounding land in the Northwest Territories are a part of me, and have shaped me into who I am today. I always struggle to adequately express the depth of my connection, but tonight I was touched to see that connection mirrored in other people in my group. I could sense that Takota feels the same way about the land of his family’s farm and Shane for the country he travelled through and became a part of on Arctic Course.
For the next part of our discussion, we were also asked to talk about one place where we felt most disconnected from the land. I had to think harder for this one but ultimately settled on my first few weeks here in Camrose last fall. I remember realizing one day in September that I had not noticed what the weather had been like that day or the day before. Here where the world sometimes seemed as narrow as to going from one classroom to another, the weather no longer influenced my plans the way it did at home. During those weeks, I also compared everything here to how it was at home. I was blind to the beauty of this place and couldn’t see it shine through in its own right. In the following semesters here, I have developed a much stronger connection here, but in those initial weeks, the disconnect was jarring.
After our discussion, the groups played a few games of introduction, and then Dittmar and Raj discussed our next activity: sit spots. I have never used that name before, but I have turned to “sit spots” throughout my life every time I need to find peace and help. When the class was freed for twenty minutes do just that, I knew instinctively where I wanted to go – the grass in front of First Year Dorms. I spent a similar hour and half in that exact spot a year ago. Coming back to that place made me think about the year that has passed and how much I have changed. I was filled with a sense of gratitude. A whispered prayer of thankfulness rose up in me as I lay there: thankfulness for this place and these people, and most of all for the freedom and beauty around me.
I felt the earth under my back, along every muscle. I watched a wasp buzz by the fir needles, noted that the clouds were barely moving, and was passed by a dragonfly hunting overhead. No one talked to me or asked me questions while I lay there. The only distractions were the sounds of a car starting up, and a couple walking by on their way home, but I didn’t resent those noises at all. Instead, an image entered my mind of all the stories going on around me like pools of light. Intangible, brushing each other without physical touch, each a different shade with a different origin and destination. The noises of passers-by did not distract me, but reminded me that a bigger world was all around me, and it was beautiful.
I have rarely done a “sit spot” in a public place like that before, and I found that despite its unfamiliarity, it provided the same sense of peace and reflection that a more secluded place brings me. I actually liked the chance to sit down right smack-dab in the middle of this so-called “civilization” and take it all in as an observer. Sitting quietly is not something that has to be reserved for Outdoor Ed trips and my time at home. It is here, at my fingertips, every day.
Time was up far too soon, and coming back to the bright loud classroom was a form of culture shock in itself. In our large circle again, we were invited to share our experience with a partner, and then the whole group. The discussion opened up and people around the circle offered insights. Leslie pointed out that every place can be new for us at any time if we just learn to pause and look with new eyes. I experienced that in my sit spot, noticing a light and a spiderweb on the dorm building that I had never seen before, despite having walked by it hundreds of times. Perhaps that is true for our relationships as well, as we strive to truly see others and be seen ourselves.
Nils talked about the juxtaposition of his sense of calm and the tangle of thoughts, ideas, and problems that sat right under the surface. His words resonated with me, because I too have struggled with the paradox of trying to stay present while also keeping up with everything on my mind. For me, “sit spots” are not always best used by attempting to empty my cluttered mind. Instead, I often use this time to address the things that are bothering us. In these quiet moments, we can work through our turmoil in peace and are better able to handle it when we are thrust back into the “real world.” I try so hard to clear my mind, but sometimes it is better for me to take up with my most bothersome thoughts during moments when I can truly give them my attention. I have been able to make peace with worries, clarify my ideas, and read my true self much more effectively when I focus on them during “sit spots” than when I push them away to be dealt with at an unspecified “later.”
Continuing around the group, Emily and several others commented on the interactions they had while they were sitting. I think the whole class could relate to a feeling of self-consciousness about simply sitting in a public space, apparently doing nothing. Our culture is not used to simply sitting and thinking because it is not a normal North American activity. We have an expectation to be steadily doing something, whether it be work or recreation. I related it to the eye-gazing exercise that Carmelle led us through near the beginning of class. There, we broke some normal social boundaries, and she suggested that we start looking at life with new eyes, asking “Why?” instead of quietly accepting the status quo.
In the past, and even in the last couple weeks, I have been alarmed to realize to find how easy it is to stop reflecting. I just let the days ebb and flow without leaving the plane of thought concerned with times, plans, and appearances. Truth be told, most of us spend the majority of our lives on that plane, and it takes time and effort to get out of it. I find that especially true when I am away from home. On that plane, my journal entries feel false, superficial, unsatisfying. I love to write, but specifically I love to write what touches my heart, what makes me think. Otherwise it is just words on paper, an amusing record of events to look back on. After my sit tonight, I just wanted to find someplace quiet and write. The plan had been to catch the last few minutes of the hockey game after class, but I knew that there was no way I could come out of this class and go stand in a big group to watch hockey. I really just wanted to return to my sit spot, maybe this time with my journal and pen in hand.