“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” (Jean Shinoda Bolen)
It’s been two months since the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus to be a worldwide pandemic. By now, disbelief has given way to acceptance and adaptation for most of us. Depending on where you live you may be living under a quarantine or you may be cautiously venturing back into a limited social environment.
Most of us have accepted that our world has changed and the post-pandemic atmosphere is likely to be very different. Just what those differences will be remain a mystery, but it’s a sure bet that some will be devastating and some will be hopeful. That uncertainty is creating a lot of apprehension. I’m finding two concepts that go a long way toward easing COVID-19 anxiety.
I first wrote about querencia back in early 2017. It’s a concept that has become abundantly relevant in these days of fear, isolation, and uncertainty.
It was introduced to me by one of my favorite authors, thinkers, and humans, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, in one of my favorite books, Kitchen Table Wisdom (the perfect read for these times). Dr. Remen describes querencia as a place of sanctuary, “a place of deep inner silence.”
The word is also used to depict a spot in a bull ring where the bull is invincible and summons his strength to challenge the matador. One of a matador’s aims is to prevent the bull from reaching his querencia. Bullfighting is a “sport” that horrifies me, but I resonate with the idea that each of us has a place—or places—where we cannot be vanquished, where we find sanctuary and strength.
I’ve also seen the word defined as “the place where you are your most authentic self.” It may be a literal, physical site, and it may also be a place of safety inside us, a place we can access when fear or anxiety threaten to overwhelm us.
Today, as each of us faces the peril of a pandemic, as well as the insecurity it brings to our lives and futures, we need to have a place where we can go to gather strength and feel safe. We need to let our children know that there is such a place. It might be a physical location in our home or our backyard. It might be an internal place we reach through meditation, relaxation, music, dance, or another contemplative practice.
Where is your querencia?
For me, it’s a comfortable chair in my crowded home office. Though I spend most of my time at my desk, there are times when I feel the pull of my recliner. It’s my editing chair, my reading chair, it’s often where I first scratch out ideas, and sometimes it’s where I just listen to soft music and breathe.
In summer, my beloved chair isn’t portable, but my querencia is. There are places in our backyard where I can sit with my laptop, or a book, or simply with my thoughts, and feel my resilience flourish along with the flowers growing all around me. We plant with the intention of inviting birds, bees, and butterflies into our garden, and they crowd to the party in fine feather and voice. Mostly, they accept us as part of the landscape, eating the berries, pollinating the flowers, and bathing in the birdbaths, without concern for our presence. Feeling a part of that tableau may be one of the most restorative therapies I can think of. It vanquishes the matador.
Here’s where friluftsliv intersects with querencia. Friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) is a Norwegian word loosely translated as “open air life.” It’s not a new word. The playwright Henrik Ibsen popularized it in the mid-1800s to describe the value to our body, mind, and spirit of spending time in nature.
It’s a word we’re likely to be hearing more as evidence mounts that being in nature has a potent positive effect on our spiritual and physical wellbeing. This is also something I wrote about some time ago that bears revisiting. Multiple studies now show that spending time in nature has many health benefits, among them: speeding recovery from illness or surgery, reducing blood pressure, lowering the risk of cancer, increasing our cognitive abilities, and simply lifting our spirits. As little as 30 minutes a week of walking in a park may be all it takes to generate increased health benefits.
Nature therapy—some call it Vitamin N—is increasingly recognized as a practice for disease prevention, as well as treatment for a variety of illnesses. It asks us to interact with nature in the simplest ways and it offers recreation, rejuvenation and a much-needed restoration of balance—both internal and external. It’s more than just going outdoors. It’s a feeling of being a part of the natural world—of being engaged and connected with the larger whole.
Here’s an opportunity for family creativity. While friluftsliv is really about spending time in nature, some of us are limited in how and where we can be outdoors. But that doesn’t mean we can’t connect. Think about ways you and your family can create nature around you or even connect to it virtually.
With most of the world’s population living in big cities, sometimes it’s hard to access parks and serene natural settings—even when people are not restricted by a pandemic. There are many creative work-arounds that offer the benefits of nature even to those who may not be able to experience it directly.
How about inviting nature in by cultivating plants indoors or in a window garden? Or getting fresh flowers from a florist, garden center, or grocery store? Or sitting in silence with photos or paintings that depict natural settings? Or adding to that silence a tape of nature sounds? Even watching nature shows on TV will give you a boost of Vitamin N. And, since the early days of the pandemic, virtual tours of some of the world’s most beautiful parks are available to anyone, anytime. Visit Crater Lake or Yellowstone, or several other national treasures via this link. Or, how about virtual Yosemite? Spectacular, refreshing, and soothing.
As we continue to make good choices in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, retreating to our querencia and embracing friluftsliv will give us strength and centeredness. They will also help our children emerge from this extraordinary time with greater fortitude and a hardy spirit.
Plus, the addition of two terrific new words to our vocabulary.
“Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.” (Deborah Day)