Finding sense of place brings strength, peace, wholeness

Pine Barrens, a forest in Medford, New Jersey, is where the author found “a deeper sense” of herself and her place in the world.

“One of our biggest difficulties…is that we live so much in language and so much in a mediated world of electronic media and print media… all of which tends to distance us from our connection with the natural world. Getting to that sense beyond language is not only healthy for personal spiritual renewal, but it’s also crucial to reconnecting with the natural world, which is a nonverbal world.”

–Doug Gwyn, QuakerSpeak, 2018

For me, a sense of place has always been linked to my identity of being a Quaker in the Religious Society of Friends and to nature. I have found that Quakerism is my spiritual home.

But this realization didn’t come without going through a personal journey to reach this understanding. Someone told me it’s OK to not know my sense of place right away because it takes time and self-discovery. It can be scary to be floating in the world, not knowing in what direction you are heading, but I think this discovery shouldn’t be rushed.

The first time I felt free was in the beautiful Pine Barrens forest in Medford, New Jersey, starting when I was 9 years old. I spent time there in nature and also in Quaker worship. Worship with the trees overhead, the sounds of nature and the peace of a centered Meeting meshed. Centered Meeting is gathering with others to sit in silence to search for divine guidance through individual communion with God. The connection I found in the Pine Barrens gave me a deeper sense of myself and my place in the world.

This discovery has been important to me, especially now as I am leaving Guilford College. I feel grounded even though I am not in the woods. I know that no matter what happens, I will always have a home in the Pine Barrens. It has felt like a second home that always welcomes me back. Regardless of how long it has been since I last visited, I’m welcomed with open arms to a place I know that is a part of me.

Ramya Krishna, a senior, finds her grounding point and sense of place in a different way. “I think, fundamentally, having a sense of place is being secure in knowing that you can keep your own counsel and that you can find a way to deal with what life throws your way,” she said.

“I think of it also as knowing what you bring to the world and taking charge of what you can, and accepting what you can’t or don’t need to take charge of,” she said.

Ramya’s definition of a sense of place is more abstract than mine, yet I understand it. It’s important to be confident in yourself and in the world. The security of being safe in the world is part of what creates a sense of place for her.

I believe that having a sense of place means being happy, and having a safe place to relax and escape from all the challenges in your life. When you find a sense of place, that allows you to both engage with and disengage from society. Finding a sense of place also can fulfill two aspects of a person’s life. It can supply something that’s missing in one’s life or create a sense of accomplishment for that person.

Berit Beck, a junior at Guilford, finds her sense of place through her accomplishments in her life.  Her sense of place also includes creating a space for herself in a world where women are often discriminated against.

Berit’s definition of a sense of place is “a place that I have carved out for myself, that I’ve put work into doing what I love. Somewhere I can be me and not be punished or looked down on for it. I like being part of a team while being able to do cool things independently.”

A new perspective I appreciate from Berit is the idea that a sense of place can be found as an independent person or in a group of people, like being a part of a team. You can find a sense of place in collaboration with others or in being independent and focusing on yourself at times.

For me, identity is also linked to one’s sense of place. The environment where you grow up can influence how you view your sense of place in the world. Berit describes herself as “an artist of multiple disciplines; musician, visual artist and cook. All started at young ages.

“I think a large part of life is breaking through those spaces, remaking them for the better, creating new ones, for many, a few or just yourself. Creating a sense of place in the world is the human occupation,” she said.

There have been a few places in my life that offer continuity, wholeness and leave me with a deep sense of identity. The raw nature in the Pine Barrens speaks to me on a deep level and I know I can come back to that stable point over and over again in my life.

When I think about the Pine Barrens I can feel the coarse, cold sand on my bare feet. I can smell the sweet sap of pine trees and hear Canadian geese flapping their wings against the coffee-dyed creek waters. In summer the fresh blooming flowers smell sweeter than usual, the air is pristine. I know this area like the back of my hand because I call this my home.

As I focus on that place a sensation of serenity takes over my body. I can feel the vibrant sounds of chirping birds and the crunching of leaves echoing in the depths of the woods. I feel connected with nature when I’m submerged in the natural waters of the camp’s creek because we are on an equal playing field.

Whenever I am in the water, I feel vulnerable because our lives are intertwined with the natural world and we flow together. Water is where I feel most at peace. In my mind, I took the long road that leads me to my sense of place on this land in these woods. This place has felt close to my heart for a long time.

Over the past four years, I’ve realized that my sense of place has expanded. I now understand that everything in nature has an ecosystem that constantly adjusts and adapts to new conditions.

One text that influenced my perspective on nature came from Gary Snyder, who wrote a short essay in an anthology called “At Home on the Earth” by David Landis Barnhill.  One quotation that stood out to me in the essay was:  “The sum of a field’s forces becomes what we call very loosely the ‘spirit of the place.’ To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which is whole.”

It is in worship that I find that spirit, spirit of the place, and the sense of being part of a greater whole. Everything has to keep moving forward, so species can evolve, thrive and survive on this earth. I need to adapt and change to show that I have this ability myself.

As a graduating senior, I will have to find new paths into the future and a new life away from Guilford College. I will also have to create a new social community to support me. My ecology changes now as I look to explore the work world and to live in a world that is unstable in supporting itself.

Sometimes I think a part of my heart would be lost along with the Pine Barrens if this place were to disappear. It’s the only place where I have been able to be nothing but myself. I realize that the value of a sense of place is individually defined and I will always try to embrace mine, wherever I go.