Wisdom sits in places

First of all, Happy Pi Day y’all!

My friend Marie shared a link to this article in the NYT Travel section by Eric Weiner and I just loved reading it. Absolutely loved it. Hearing about his “thin places,” or more specifically,

“locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever,”

threw me on a trip down memory lane thinking of all the places around the world where I felt that way. Here for example:

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That’s the Lotus Temple, the house of worship for the Bahá’í faith in New Delhi, India and I took the picture in 2004. It is hard to describe the enormous scale of the place, but it’s a big, towering, marble lotus flower. A series of pools, fountains and waterways surround the temple and keep the air ten degrees cooler than the surrounding areas. New Delhi is hot and this is a tranquil respite from the dusty city. Inside there are no decorations or furnishings of any kind – just you and stark marble all the way to the top of the building – and you must be completely silent, no voices. I have an incredibly vivid memory of sitting cross-legged on the cool marble floor with my eyes closed and hearing nothing except the swish of saris, the soft padding of bare feet, and gentle tinkle of tiny bells on silver anklets as other women walked by to find their own quiet space on the floor. I don’t remember if there were men around or if they were in a different section; at this point I don’t even remember if my boyfriend at the time who I was traveling with was sitting next to me. For some reason it was the sound of other women passing that I remember. Something about those gentle sounds, the feel of the marble, the coolness of the air somehow combined to make the space around me feel lighter, like I could touch some hidden clarity if I was only willing to be receptive and patient.

Some places like the Lotus Temple feel light as if you could reach through the veil between worlds (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon anyone?) and some places feel heavy like you can feel the weight of all the people who passed through there. Bookstores are like that for me. The best ones are the really old ones where the floorboards creak and you worry about books falling down on you from towering stacks that go up to the ceiling. Where the owners or employees hang up quotes and cartoons on the shelves cut out of magazines and newspapers, cellotape the only thing between the scraps of paper and disintegrating oblivion. Crates of old LPs (are there any other kind at this point?) and sheet music and comic books stashed away in the back. Extensive poetry sections. There is a bookstore on a side street near the Angel tube stop in London that comes to mind, and even The Strand in New York City. Yes it’s touristy, but I have a soft spot for the place because it was only three blocks from my apartment in the East Village where I lived when I was discovering Led Zeppelin at age 19 and there I found one of my favorite books – a collection of essays by E. B. White. When you enter, keep your head down as you pass the tourists buying branded tote bags and turn left at the Literature section. The smell of lovingly worn hardcover tomes with their yellowing pages and fraying cloth covers is intoxicating and you can feel how many people have stood in the same spot as you, fingertips lightly brushing across names of literary giants and not-so-giants alike. The feeling is similar to Italian cathedrals with their pews, stained glass windows and likenesses of Saints all heavy under the weight of centuries of prayer. Bookstores are just as much temples as churches.

Not that being connected requires something created by humans. There is nowhere on earth I feel more in awe of our universe than standing on the edge of an outcropping of rocks and looking out over an angry ocean. A horrible storm blowing in Biarritz, France. The last windy reaches of a hurricane on the beaches of New Jersey. And, to take the cake, the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina.

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This was in early 2005. You can smell the ice, you can feel the ice, you can hear the ice creaking and groaning and finally big chunks cracking apart and splashing into the water.

Check out this clip from a Time interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and existential philosopher extraordinaire where he explains:

“When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life.”

Everyone should have the opportunity to learn science, or learn anything for that matter, from someone so passionate. In the presence of glaciers and mountains and oceans remembering that we are all stardust means that the boundaries of our mindset and creativity can be pushed and it makes me feel differently my place in the world. Life is indeed beautiful.

Where are your “thin places”?

And, more importantly, when is the last time you listened to Moby?

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About Petunia

She wore rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes And I knew without asking she was into the blues She wore scarlet begonias tucked into her curls I knew right away she was not like other girls ~The Grateful Dead
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9 Responses to Wisdom sits in places

  1. rwzak says:

    Years for Moby. Forgot about him, actually. As to “thin places” as described I have to say mine is a little plain, but it happens most every Sunday at Quaker Meeting. 40 or 50 Friends sit in silence in a room with lots of windows on an old tree-filled lot the Meeting has owned since the 1950’s, especially in the Fall with a million colors outside the windows. It’s where i center down and get back to some peace in my mind and I rely on it a lot. So no great big mountains or things like that. Just a room full of Quakers on a bright autumn Sunday morning. Yeah ok… boring. Oh well…

  2. M.Lane says:

    A really nice post and an amazing article in the NYT. A profound notion in a time really lacking in profound notions! I agree about Quaker meetings. I attended one for a while and felt the same way. I think that we all have a natural harmonic that matches up with certain places and people, careers, etc., if we are lucky enough to wait to find them. This will sound corny but the most “thin” I have ever felt was looking at my new son at night in his crib. So thin it almost, almost hurt.

    After that, playing golf on Pinehurst #2. Fishing for trout at dusk on the Au Sable river in Michigan.

    I hope that Paris provides me a spot or two like that.

    Super writing P!

    ML
    mlanesepic.blogspot.com

    PS Never Moby. No.

  3. thewayguy says:

    What a soulfully awesome post. I have several thin places in addition to the one I find in zazen (坐禅):
    – the field in Sonoma County where I take the dog, especially on a summer day when the breeze blows through my soul, the sun warms my skin, and I feel the energy of all the grey dogs who have shared that space with me
    – the two-lane stretch of road between Red Bluff, California and The Wild Horse Sanctuary, surrounded by open land, not a dwelling in sight, and where I can pull off to the shoulder at night, stand in the middle of the road, look up at the Milky Way, and be enveloped by a quiet that can’t be described with words.
    – on top of Hawk Hill with my team in the Marin headlands during the fall raptor migration
    Thanks for this post. You’ve helped me recalibrate my approach to the rest of the day.

    • Petunia says:

      Thanks for your feedback! The field in Sonoma County sounds especially inviting. I should try stargazing in California, probably much warmer than Upstate NY! I miss seeing the Milky Way…

  4. jacoozie says:

    your posts always blow me away but this one takes the cake – i have one very special thin place that is my favorite and that is anywhere my child sits on my lap and we have a quiet moment together. i miss you so much brat face!!! when it it MY time to get some erin time???!!!

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