Psychology of Place

Psychology of Place

Getting Personal With Hurrican Katrina (Personal Post)

Ever since the upset and chaos brought by Hurricane Katrina ripped through my homeland and life, I have relished a stable sense of home. Well, actually I’ve always relished it, just not as poignantly.

I’ve been fortunate to experience home as a peaceful retreat for most of my life. And when The Big K changed that for me, I was turned upside down emotionally and more specifically spatially. My usual spatial references were blown away causing unbelievable disorientation. I’ve heard this is a typical response people have after a disaster. It makes sense that when one looses spatial references such as familiar trees and landmarks, that the neurological pathways become confused and new relations must be established. But that only comes after the initial shock has subsided.

When we returned to our home, an hour north of New Orleans the day after Katrina, we faced acres of fallen trees, twisted and snapped as if they were small twigs. What once took us 15 minutes to traverse, now took an hour of climbing over and under the tangled web of trees. We couldn’t even find our house at first because there were so many branches and trees covering the driveway.

I remember standing in a spot and having the strangest feeling I have ever had. I did not know where I was, yet I knew I was standing in an area that I had known for most of my life. Just days before it would have looked and felt so familiar. Now there was no familiar sense of place for me. I could not find a recognizable clue. I felt like I was in a surreal dream, my body felt lifeless as if it had been blown away also.

Suddenly I looked down to my right and caught a glimpse of a bush that brought me back. I recognized the bush and instantly realized where I was. With that realization, my body immediately felt like it came smashing back down to Earth. I had relocated myself and regained my sense of place. My internal GPS was back!

I made a decision at that moment. Even though I was facing tremendous turmoil, I knew I would somehow regain my sense of stability and I would someday reestablish a home that was a nourishing retreat. A place where I could once again feel completely embraced by my surroundings.

Fast forward 4 years and I’m living in Asheville, North Carolina in a very comfortable mid century bungalow which we renovated. It was an ugly duckling when we bought it, clad in 60's yellow vinyl siding with tacky white plastic shutters. In spite of all this, I knew under the polyvinyl chloride there was a sweet home waiting to be uncovered. And that’s what we did. We took off the layers of plastic and found original cedar shake and a house that wanted to be loved again. With some reconfiguration and an updated kitchen, it’s become a nourishing retreat for us. My sense of place has guided me home again.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so where you do not know what is in the morning paper. A place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. At first you may think nothing’s happening. But if you have a sacred space and take advantage of it and use it every day, something will happen.”

I've had such a place in our homes ever since we married 26 years ago. This sacred space has become a touchstone for stability and nourishment no matter what else is happening in our lives. I encourage clients to incorporate a special sacred place for themselves. It can be a corner of a room or an area that does not get a lot of daily traffic and clutter. Place some objects that inspire and uplift you and sit there daily for just 10 minutes for a week and watch what happens in your life. Observe how it affects you and what comes up. Then do it for another week, and another. And just as Joseph Campbell says, something will happen.

For info on creating spaces that makes you feel good at home contact us to discuss.