Amidst the many challenges of early 2020, I found a lot of joy watching nature come back to life during the spring thaw. Things change quickly in spring and considering the pandemic we were living through, even more so that year. As we adjusted to that changing reality, all of us at UW-Madison Extension worked on ways to help isolated folks stay connected.
A sit-spot practice is a great way to help people connect with the rhythms of nature and local natural communities. Sit-spotting is a simple and flexible practice that is focused on understanding a place and cultivating awareness. In uncertain times, connecting to place and paying attention to your attention can drastically improve well-being.
What’s a Sit-Spot?
The basic idea is to pick a place to sit in nature where you can be silent and observe. Make a commitment to sit in that spot with a notebook and pay attention to what’s happening. You can sit-spot for 15 minutes or an hour, and jot a couple lines or a couple pages. It doesn’t matter. Just make some notes about what is happening at that moment in your sit-spot, and then come back to the same spot and do it again. Picking a regular time of day, like during your morning coffee or right after lunch can help build the habit.
Other than consistency, the most important part of a sit-spot practice is finding a good spot. Your sit-spot should be in a natural environment. However, ‘natural’ can be interpreted in different ways. A lawn chair in the back yard, a stump on the back forty, or a park view from your balcony, it all works. But it’s best to pick a place that’s easily accessible so you can make sit-spotting a regular routine. To keep things simple, try picking a spot at home where you don’t spend much time. You can learn a lot about your property by making regular observations of an overlooked location.
So, do you want to give it try…?
Grab your notebook and pen and head to your spot. Settle in for the time you’ve given yourself. I’ve included a sample journal outline below as an option, but feel free to organize your writing however you see fit. As you begin, awareness of the breath is a great place to start. Focus on your breath for a few cycles and then bring attention to your senses individually. Write down what you see, hear, smell and maybe how it makes you feel. Pay close attention to what is really happening and try to keep your mind from wandering into the past or future. Awareness of the current moment can be a powerful antidote for both depression and anxiety.
Like most practices, sit-spotting gets better with experience. In the near-term, you may not have grand insights, but the simple act of sitting quietly in nature and mindfully breathing has incredible benefits for your well-being. Over time you’ll begin to notice details about the natural order in days and seasons. Your notebook will become a phenological record for that place (study of the changing seasons), which will keep increasing in value with each entry. So come back to your spot often and add to your notes!
Finally, the nature of sit-spotting is solitary, but we’d like to try to build some community around this practice. Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out our new Instagram account. Follow us @UWMadisonExtForestry and join in the fun with the hashtag: #SitSpotChallenge.
I’ve got a large, flat rock in my yard on the edge of a marsh that will be my sit-spot. I’ll practice there a couple times a week and share photos and simple observations of what’s happened with the hashtag #SitSpotChallenge. If you’ve got kids at home, help them set up their own sit-spot practice too. You’ll be surprised how two people in the same place can be aware of totally different things. I hope you make it to your sit-spot soon and we’d love to see you online for the #SitSpotChallenge
Stay safe and have fun out there!
Observations: Bullets or prose
- Flowers in bloom (pollinators?)
- Birds seen/heard (behavior)
- Insect/other animal activity
- Other sensory info (smells, sounds, etc.)