New place, new thinking?

After living in London for several decades, I recently moved to Devon. Today marks my first month here and I’m wondering if living in the countryside instead of the city is having any impact on my thinking.

Philosopher Christopher Preston concludes that “people craft some of their very cognitive identity in communion with a landscape” (Preston, 2003) while anthropologist Keith Basso explores how Apache conceptions of wisdom are inextricably bound up with place. An Apache cattleman named Dudley Patterson told Basso that “Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places” (Basso, 1996).

Dudley explained that this couldn’t be understood without riding out to the places of wisdom. The anthropologist had to “experience the places with his body”; the “topography of the land had to filter through his limbs, the smell of the vegetation had to permeate his clothes, and the sweat created by the struggle of getting there had to drip from his body onto the ground” (Preston, 2003).

But it’s not enough just to be somewhere. A certain attitude of focused awareness is also required. We need to pause and “actively sense” our relationship to place (Basso, 1996). Dudley explains the Apache way:

“You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep on thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother. … You will be wise. People will respect you” (Basso, 1996).

I think this helps explain why I haven’t noticed any particular changes in my outlook or thinking. I’ve been preoccupied with the practicalities of moving: finding a place to live and setting up my new psychotherapy practice. However, living in a radically different place can have a profound impact. Christopher Preston spent one summer volunteering for the National Park service in Alaska and found that the place “played itself out on my body and made its way into my body”. As a result his “being-in-the-world … took on a local character” (Preston, 2003). That change took just two months. If I can apply a little Apache wisdom and begin to actively sense my relationship with Devon, who knows what – or who – might emerge?

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