Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Finding Your Sense of Place at Home

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

The weather is quickly warming up and soon we will find ourselves outside more, traveling to the beach or the mountains to relax, slow down, and enjoy the beauty of nature. We may experience a sense of awe and wonder when we realize just how connected we are to the universe.  But what happens to that connection when we return home again, when routine takes over like an invasive vine and The Commute, the Target Run and the school or work commitments become the focus of our day?  Do we check out the sunset?  Do we know what the plants and the birds are doing?  Do we have any inkling of the water level in our local streams?  If not, what’s the psychological effect of living like this: an “alien” or a tourist in our own land?

These are the types of questions that Eco-psychologists study in their efforts to create a sustainable, livable world and to foster a more psychologically healthy population.  Their premise is that the attachment and meaning given to a particular place is central to the health of the planet and the person. A “sense of place” here refers to “...a psychological construct that involves attributing a geographical location with meaning, values, and a sense of “connection.” [From: The Power of Connection: Sustainable Lifestyles and Sense of Place.  Ecopsychology Journal Vol 4, No. 4 Jan 31, 2013, found at].  It follows then that if more people felt a sense of connection to their natural environment, they would feel motivated to engage in actions for sustainability. I would also add that having a sense of place cultivates curiosity, belonging, connection, and a greater sense of well-being in us.

A disconnection to the land may be a uniquely American problem.  As Americans, most of us came here as immigrants.  Because of that we may have an evolutionary proclivity to restlessness.  We are always on the move, searching for greener pastures and hoping a change of location will promise a better life.  Over caffeinated, hyper busy and digitally connected 24/7, we move through our daily life at an unnatural pace.  The downside of this movement, borne of our pioneering spirit and freedom to roam is an underlying feeling of displacement, alienation and a lack of identity.  Wendell Berry says we don’t know who we are unless we know where we are. So, who exactly are we?  How do we connect to an adopted land?

Know the Plants
One way to counteract alienation is to reclaim the space where we live or as Robin Wall Kimmerer says, in Braiding Sweetgrass, to become “naturalized” citizens of the land.  Kimmerer would agree with the poet Gary Snyder, who teaches that spirit of place is accessed only through knowledge gained by direct experience in a specific locale.  "Know the plants" is his mantra. Once you become curious and start to know the names of the plants and trees around you, it’s like a faucet has turned on.  More questions come and you begin to be curious about all the things you may have previously ignored and taken for granted.  The plants become like familiar friends or trusted allies.  This is the beginning of belonging and connection.

Write a Poem or a Love Letter
Wallace Stegner in his great essay entitled “Sense of Place” states, “that no place is a place until it has had a poet.”  
[Insert link to:,%20Wallace%20%20Sense%20of%20Place.pdf  ]  Who is our poet?  Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the Wissahickon, sure, but who is the modern day poet laureate of the entire region?  Beth Kephart who writes Flow, a prose poem history of the Schuylkill River may be a contender.  You can read an excerpt here. [Insert link to:

Many people have written love letters to their favorite places in the Wissahickon.  It was inspiring to read this article about how many people went to the Red Covered Bridge to feel their “fullest and best versions of themselves”:  Go to your favorite place in your local park and try to write it a love letter.  You may feel a deeper attachment to it after you’ve expressed how you feel. 

Don’t Get Discouraged by Urbanism
Even in this major East Coast city, we can still feel a sense of place that doesn’t involve cheesesteaks and Rocky.  We who live in the Greater Philadelphia area are lucky to have an active urban garden scene, two major rivers, Fairmount Park, the Wissahickon, Pennypack, Morris and Awbury Arboretums and Bartram’s Gardens.  We may not be able to walk barefoot through the parks, but we can walk like “each step is a greeting to Mother Earth”.  With respect and reverence and love.  Slow down, observe the little things that are all too easy to overlook.  Our personal wellbeing and our planetary survival just might depend on it.  What’s happening right now outside your window?

Ways to Connect with Local Nature:
  • Join Friends of the Wissahickon or the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association or Like them on Facebook.  They post a lot about the local wildlife and plants.
  • Start an in-home naturalist training course through the Wilderness Awareness School: (I loved this program.  Please reach out if you want to learn more about my experience)

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping anxious and depressed teens and women connect to and live in harmony with their true nature.  Heather is passionate about using mindfulness and Eco-therapeutic approaches to restore balance, reduce isolation, and create a greater sense of wellbeing. She can be reached at  or 215-485-7205.

No comments:

Post a Comment