The threshold brook

My Ph.D. research into embodied knowing found that Eco-Pagans living in urban environments often had a powerful spiritual connection to a specific place. Barry Patterson, one of my research participants, described this connection as listening to the “threshold brook” (Harris, 2008).

The phrase “threshold brook” stands for any of the innumerable natural  miracles our fast fleeting lives ignore. It’s from John Keats’ poem in The Human Seasons: “Fair things pass by, unheeded as a threshold brook”.

But what if we did pay heed?

“The threshold brook is there. Now how about I actually spend some time with it?  And how about one day, after maybe months or weeks or however long it takes, maybe one day no matter how cynical or jaded or sceptical or clever, or over analytical I was, that one day this special brook actually did speak to me. And told me what I needed to hear. And then I got up from sitting by the threshold brook and walked back into my world a different person” (Barry Patterson).

Listening to the threshold brook provides a “deepening sense of place” (Patterson, n.d.) for Eco-Pagans, who often listen to its voice using the felt sense described by Gendlin (1981). As Barry explained, when the threshold brook speaks, the hearer’s world changes forever because it reveals our “sacred relationship with the world” (Zoe, research participant): Thus one place can pattern a sacred relationship to the world.

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4 Responses to The threshold brook

  1. Pingback: Looking back: Who read what in 2019? | Bodymind Place

  2. Stephanie says:

    This is a wonderful and very meaningful article. It is short but filled with strong statements that I have felt and experienced too. I have been exploring dance improvisation in various landscapes of North America. From my perspective I have found that:

    Movement improvisation reveals a story of place.

    While exploring dance improvisation in the various biomes (forest, lake, arctic tundra) I began to realize that the creative expression co-emerging between the landscape and me was a kind of revealing of story of place. The story was not literal, narrative or linear. I wasn’t talking, writing or miming. The story, as I experienced it, was more emotional, somatic and kinaesthetic since I was dancing with the landscape.

    It definitely had a cohesiveness, like a story, and a sense that it needed to come out right here. Almost as if the land was expressing itself. Or was impelling the improvisation forwards? And I don’t just mean through me. I mean between the landscape and me, right here and right now.

    The place felt animate. And the story felt specific for this location.

    Throughout my time in the wild, I explored improvising in various large and small landscapes. I explored improvising with various elements of the landscape (objects, color, sounds, natural processes, large land masses etc.). I explored improvising in the same place but at a different time of the day. I explored meditative improvisations with more minimal movement as well as vigorous improvisations with more athletic movement. While improvising I would look inside to my somatic felt senses for guidance as well as outside towards nature’s expressed qualities.

    These experiments lead to some interesting and new improvisations for me as well as further questions:
    How many different stories are inside the land in this place?
    How many different ways are there for it to be expressed?
    Who is listening to these stories?

    In addition and as a side note: While exploring meditation, Focusing and living outside in the natural environment, I began to notice more nuance to that feeling of “place”. There was a difference between when I felt a sense of “place”, when I felt a sense of “here”, and when I felt a sense of “home”. (More on that another time…)

    Thank you for a great gem of writing.

  3. Adrian Harris says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank-you very much for your thoughts. Of course it’s lovely to read how much you enjoyed this post, but it’s the deeper nuances you draw out that please me most. I’m especially struck by your sense of how your relationship with the place – that betweenness – allowed something new to emerge. Our language gets stretched here, so apologies for my abuse of the word ‘betweenness’! The anthropologist Tim Ingold maybe gets close to it with his notion of a way of knowing he call ‘sentient ecology’. Sentient ecology emerges from a particular relationship “with animals and other components of the environment” that is “based in feeling, consisting in the skills, sensitivities and orientations that have developed through long experience of conducing one’s life in a particular environment” (Ingold, 2000: 25). Crucially for Ingold – as for other thinkers I’ve discussed – mind and nature are not necessarily separated. “For the Ojibwa, knowledge is grounded in experience, understood as a coupling of the movement of one’s awareness to the movement of aspects of the world. Experience, in this sense, does not mediate between mind and nature, since these are not separated in the first place” (ibid.: 11). Bateson, Gendlin and others share this insight and it’s key I think to making sense of what’s happening for you. There isn’t a discrete ‘self’ – ‘Stephanie’ – and a location that self is occupying. There’s a ‘Stephanie/place’ synergy that enables a new ‘knowing’ to emerge. I think this is what animism looks like when we step beyond the Western notion of the discrete, unified self into a world of the relational. My post on ‘Becoming another: connected selves‘ might be useful.
    Best wishes,

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