There are places where we spend a great deal of time, and yet often we don't even notice them. But what if our environments are quietly defining our experience without our knowledge? This week's tip explores.
A number of years ago, when I was attending the Hay Literary Festival with my husband and two children, our accommodation was changed at the last minute due to an infestation of fleas at the cottage we had originally booked. We found ourselves, instead, at a cottage in the wilds, where access was on foot over grass hills and bracken, where sheep lived undisturbed, and where mobile reception became a dim and distant memory. Although the agent had assured us that it was accessible by car, in fact it was only reachable by a 4x4 vehicle, which we did not have. Getting off our hill and into Hay involved a half mile walk down a muddy track to the point where we had been forced to leave our car. The sheep would scatter as we set forth from the cottage and watch us from a safe distance. On our return, if we forgot to shut the gate, they would amble into the garden, chew on the daisies, and peer into the living room as we watched television. Some days I walked out on the hills alone, breathing in the fresh air and chatting to my woolly companions.
It wasn't until I arrived back in London that I realised that something strange had happened. Not only was I unexpectedly missing my new Welsh friends, but the experience had been so oddly transporting that I almost felt I was one of them.
I was reminded by this when a friend reported a similarly transporting experience in the summer. She was on holiday, reading The Life of Pi, the story of a young Indian man whose ship sinks in the middle of the ocean, carrying not only himself and his family, but his family's menagerie. Surviving the wreck, he finds himself on a small boat with only a full size Bengal tiger for company. So immediate were the descriptions of the sea and the sky, the endless watery space, the contrasting claustrophobia of the boat, the sun relentlessly beating down, the rolling of the vessel with the swell, the desperate foraging in the waves for something to eat, that my friend found herself gently rocking with the ocean for days after she finished the book.
Perhaps some of us are more permeable than others, but it occurred to me that if one could have these experiences when in unusual environments, whether real or virtual, then surely the same thing could be happening in our normal environments? It's just that we don't notice because it all feels so normal.
The question is, are we spending our time in the environments and the company to which we wish to be transported?
1. Can you think of a time when you were transported? Where were you and what were you doing? What was your experience exactly?
2. Where do you spend most of your time, and what are those environments like? Take a look around your workplace, for example, and see what is there. Do you like your environment? Your companions? Your furnishings? What does it smell like? Is it comfortable? What noises can you hear? What effect does it all have on you? Go through the same process with your home.
3. Imagine that the boundaries of your body and mind were permeable (which they are), how do you feel about mingling with these environments? Are there parts which you're happy to mingle with and parts which you are definitely not?
4. Consider some changes in your environments. At work you might take in a plant or put up a picture. You might change the orientation of your desk, or tidy it. At home you might rearrange the furniture, change the lighting, reduce the clutter, buy some scented candles, a new chair or rug, a painting. What difference do you sense that these changes would make to your experience of being in those spaces?