I’ve been away at two events over the last few weeks, both of which exemplified the power of place. The UK Ecopsychology Gathering took place at Green and Away, an outdoor conference centre. Both the weather and our interactions were unpredictable; mostly sunny but occasionally stormy.
In some ways the Gathering was like other conferences; we had the usual presentations, keynote speakers and workshops. But in every other way it was radically different. Although much of that was due to the people and topic, if we’d met at a more conventional venue, it would have been a more conventional event. When canvas instead of brick boundaries the outside world, the enclosed space is transformed.
Ray, an environmental activist I interviewed for my PhD research, lived in a bender – a low-impact dwelling with canvas walls. He explained why he never wanted to live in a house again:
“in a house you’re just sealed off from anything that could possibly connect with outside of it … you don’t realise it until – well I didn’t realise until I had the opportunity to live outside in a bender. … you kind of connect with what’s outside of it, a bit more than you would in a normal home.
(Harris, 2008. Chapter 9).
More recently I took part in a retreat for Embodiment Facilitator trainees. Previous sessions had taken place in the kind of seminar rooms you might expect, but the retreat was held at a Victorian model farmstead in Kent. It’s a beautiful site that’s full of character; lofty indoor spaces and grounds that balance wildness with nurture. Drop in an experienced set of trainers and a juicy group of participants and you get an exceptional event.
Place shapes our experience far more than we like to admit: In both cases, people were the key ingredient but place had a huge impact. The organizers of each event had an awareness of the power of place, so they considered the venues carefully. As a result, we were rewarded with powerful experiences that will have lasting impact.