A Spiritual Practice for a Chaotic World
This post is about a spiritual practice for everyone called Sit Spot.
Have you spent much time outside since the shutdown came? Maybe you’ve found more time for yard work or cleanup. Maybe your kids tried to dig a hole to China. Maybe you’ve taken more walks or runs than you used to. These are all great ways to get outside and move your body.
I know I have loved the extra motivation to get out of the house and spend time in the other-than-human world of the meadows, creeks, forests, and trails that are so close to my neighbourhood. I like to take a piece of almost every day and go outside and look for birds. I’ve got 32 birds on my neighbourhood bird list as of yesterday! Hot tip: early morning, right as the sun is starting to shine is a great time to see birds getting their breakfast for the day.
As much as I love moving around outside, there is one practice that I have always envied when I hear of folks who practice it well. It’s called Sit Spot. I first came across it when I was involved with teaching outdoor education to kids in Guelph and later found a great resource called Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.
Sit Spot is essentially the practice of being still outdoors. Often, we associate going outside with being active. We go outside so we can make big movements or change the environment we’re in. But the Sit Spot practice invites us to take on the posture of curious, calm, and quiet observer.
Here’s the gist: Find a place outside. Sit there. Wait.
It sounds very simple doesn’t it. It’s almost uncomfortably simple. It’s almost intrusively simple! It might not sound like you are doing anything at all but really, you are practicing inhabiting a space in a non-intrusive way and accepting the gift that it is. That’s one layer of what’s happening.
Another is that as you become more familiar with your sit spot and you are able to get comfortable sitting for longer periods of time, you will begin to notice the world around you in greater detail. You’ll begin to hear bird songs and calls that you haven’t heard in that spot before. Maybe a traveller is migrating overhead, or a visitor is stopping by. You might even get lucky and spot one of your local four-legged mammals rustling around for some food or coming and going from its den. I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was a den there!
I hope I’m not sensationalizing it! Sit Spot is not a guaranteed wild encounter with nature but it’s definitely going to give you some surprises if you stick with it.
One of my favorite things about Sit Spot is that you can do it almost anywhere. You don’t have to go very far to find a place that you can easily and consistently go back to for a sit. You don’t need a perfect place. You don’t even need to be hidden. Once the birds and other creatures are used to your presence and they know you are not there to harm or disturb them, you’ll just be another part of the environment.
Now, encountering nature is a splendid experience, but a sit spot can also help us to encounter our inner-world as well. And even more it can help us connect the outer and inner worlds by reminding us that we are a part of this good creation that God has placed us in. From the very beginning, humans and non-humans were intended to be in relationship. That doesn’t always mean interaction, but it does mean awareness. I think.
When I’m out looking and listening for birds, the words of Jesus to consider the sparrows or the birds of the air comes to mind. I’m amazed the more I look at birds (of all kinds) that there are endless things to consider. Jesus used them as an illustration that God will care for our needs just like he cares for theirs but are there other things we can learn from considering the expressions of life around us? I’m sure there are!
A Sit Spot is a spiritual practice you can engage in anywhere. Whether you live in the town or the country you can find a place to sit and breathe in the air, smell the smells, listen to the sounds, feel the wind. Watch how the place changes with the seasons (spring is a great time to find yourself a sit spot because it is an action packed season of change). Sit Spot is also a practice that people can learn and practice at any age, young and not-so-young.
In the Coyote Guide, there’s a story about a guy who had the same spot for 7-years. He would go everyday. It’s the place he credits with providing a lot of growth in his life.
I’m reminded as I write this of the classic verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” Often this is a verse we contextualize to be about our inner panic that we’ve become accustomed to; appointments, chores, kids, work, hobbies, exercise, chores again, church, hygiene, parties, events, and on and on it goes. We often choose to try to “be still” in a cognitive/intellectual/or mental sense. Sit Spot challenges us to consciously remove ourselves from the dense and intricately distracting world of all those things and sit down in the grass, on a rock, a fallen tree, a hill, or a lawn chair and just be still.
I invite to take a walk and look for a nice place to sit. As you leave your house, ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you and guide you to a place. As you sit, ask Jesus to sit with you and share the quiet or listen to your heart, or share his with you. And as you go from your Sit Spot, give thanks to the Father for his good creation that blesses and teaches us.