21 December 2009 2 Comments
This is something I’m still coming to realize in new ways since reading Kathleen Norris’ Dakota a year ago this month: Open spaces, unhemmed environments encourage a contemplative lifestyle much more than spaces where a person’s vision is curtailed by built or natural objects.
I’m not entirely sure why this is though.
Nature itself seems, in theory, to be something that naturally encourages contemplation. However, the dense foliage and hills of the Ozarks — my home for six years up until this past July — just wasn’t as conducive to a thinking life as the prairie’s open spaces. Some of the reason for this might have to do with roots. I was born and raised here, and I’m probably more comfortable (consciously and subconsciously) here than in other geographies.
But I think there’s more to it than that. Norris lived in Honolulu and New York City before moving to a very remote part of South Dakota. It was there she realized how open spaces encouraged a meditative mind, despite her metropolitan upbringing.
So what is it about open spaces or broad vistas that gets a person thinking deep thoughts? As I recall, Norris suggested that the prairies reminded a person of their mortality, in part because of their harsh summer and winter weathers. Corbusier from the Architecture + Morality blog concurs: “In the country[side], we are humbled by nature, which probably explains why [we] refer to going to the countryside as a seach for the ‘simpler things.’ The city does the opposite: it emboldens us. It affirms our innermost yearning to express ourselves and transcend our physical limits.” So humility results in deeper contemplation.
I need to meditate on this discovery.