This morning I woke to a bristly cold breeze and worrisome thoughts of things to do and problems to solve. Contemplating staying in bed, a bird lands on the branch outside my window and calls incessantly, as if demanding I come play.
Rugging up in layers of wool, I walk to the end of the street where the bitumen turns to a small red dirt trail. A small climb to the top of a hill takes me to a magnificent sprawling gum, its leaves thick with the chirrup of honeyeaters. I sink to the ground and rest my back against the ghost white of its trunk, the wan sun warming my cold cheeks.
Extending my senses, I open my ears to the furthest and faintest sounds, soften my eyes to drink in every nuance of colour and movement; a flash of crimson rosella overhead, the gentle sway of tussock grass in my periphery. Breathing deep the scent of earth and eucalypt, I taste the moist air on my tongue. I fill with a sense of gratitude as I come back to my body, feeling no need to be anything else but one more creature waking.
This practice of sitting in quiet observation within a natural place is one that was introduced to me during my year of studying wilderness survival skills.
“I’m going to teach you the most important skill for wilderness living” the bird language instructor said, “And all you need to do is sit.”
“Find one place in nature that calls to you,” he suggested. “Know it by day, know it by night, in the rain and wind. Know the stars and where the four directions are. Know the birds that live there and the trees they live in. Know these things as if they are your relatives, which in time, they will become.”
For an entire year I sat at my ‘sit spot’ for at least an hour every day, just watching, just listening. Over the four seasons, the doors of the forest swung open, transporting me to an imaginative land where giant forest owls kidnapped bandicoots and possums by night, where wrens woven the silken threads of huntsman spiders into their nests and families of migratory birds taught their young to fly in front of me.
Curiosity was my goad, one question leading to another. Over the months the birds became used to my visits. I could slip in virtually unnoticed and tune back in to the family dramas, territorial skirmishes, courtships and predatory kerfuffles.
Through this simple routine, I began to turn the pages of the book of nature, slowly learning the language of the birds, and through them, the forest. More than anything, my sit spot gave me a sense of belonging to my new home that weeks of merely passing through couldn’t.
A sit spot doesn’t need to be in wilderness.
Find one place in nature that calls to you, perhaps a hidden spot in a city park or in your backyard, just somewhere close to home that feels good. Go there as often as you can and sit quietly and comfortably, just observing life around you. Sunrise and sunset are especially magical times. When thoughts arise, come back to your senses; to the sounds, sights, smells, tastes and feel of this place.
Over time, sitting still and silent in nature will not only open up previously hidden aspects of the land, but of yourself as well.