Human-ing’ is something we do in a context, in place. We inhabit a corner of the world and make sense of life from there. I developed a practice that I call ‘deep mapping in your square mile’, as part of the intuitive creative arts practices I offer, because I believe that how we connect with that corner, and what we bring to it, makes a difference in all the decisions we make and actions we take. How humans do their human-ing on the planet at this point in our history is clearly a matter of deep concern and worthy of attention. This article explores how I work with the elements of a deep mapping journey within my therapeutic community, The Soul Shed.
If we were beginning a deep mapping journey together, the first thing I would ask you to do would be to locate yourself within the square mile where you live. This area does not need to be to be scientifically accurate, so I may suggest that you shift the boundaries a bit so that it has a body of water and some woodland within it, if possible. The task would be to imagine yourself within the physically mapped field of your environment – as a human being, living in place. From here, your journey of self-discovery would unfold. Between our sessions, I would invite you to walk in your square mile, to take photographs and to journal. Within our sessions, we would take these experiences into a deeper creative enquiry.
Your square mile
Although I have created my own synthesis for therapeutic application, neither the ‘deep map’ nor ‘your square mile’ are my own ideas. Both coined by Mike Pearson, ‘your square mile’ is inspired by a Welsh spatial notion (y filltir sgwar), and refers to the connection a human might have with the place they know intimately, through living there over time.1 As for a ‘deep map’, Pearson suggests it’s both cultural and historical, and necessary to represent an experience of place adequately.1Since first encountering these ideas in Caer Llan with Sally Mackey2 in 2004, I have been exploring how I can apply them more widely. What has unfolded is an inner and external journey which I offer to anyone who wants to come back to this felt sense of connection with the place where they live. It is helpful to conceive of this map being created, represented and expressed in multiple ways, and of the physical terrain being experienced as the site of a process of meaning making.
In our sessions together, I would share some somatic breathwork practice with you, which would orient you to felt sensing – a way to a more present awareness of your sensations and how you are experiencing yourself as an embodied organism. It would also honour you as a three-centred being (gut, heart and head) with access to instinctual knowing, heartfelt responding and open-minded curiosity. This way of understanding the human experience is rooted in enneagram teachings.3 These three distinct embodied kinds of experiencing can be ‘sites’ for new connected experiences of awareness to arrive. I call this ‘emergent connectivity’, wherever of these three places it arrives in your body. It is your creative intuition.
An orientation of correspondence
Being in correspondence with the landscape and other organisms around us is an act of self-restoration. It generates a deepening appreciation of life interconnecting each time we do it. Here, I borrow from the work of another explorer, Tim Ingold. He contrasts two kinds of thinking – ‘a thinking that joins things up, and a thinking that joins with things.’4 Correspondence describes an orientation to the more-than-human world, and other organisms’ ways of being. The benefits of an ethos of correspondence are threefold: it is a process, it is open-ended, and it is dialogical.4 In this orientation, reductive categorisation and objectification of the external world is redundant because it is an experiential dead end. To live our human lives in correspondence is to take part in life unfolding: to become a part of both a human and more-than-human story. My book Take It to the Trees5 came from a year immersed in correspondence with the trees in my own square mile, increasingly coming to believe that they are re-sourcing us as humans in so many ways, day to day; and that their way of witnessing and supporting our human existences largely goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. I was altered by spending time with trees in this way.
In our deep mapping journey, as you get to know the trees in your square mile, there would be an invitation to explore how you experience them, and how you experience their powerful, still, witnessing of you. How is the presence of a silver birch different to behold than the presence of an oak tree? And how do each of these trees play their own parts in both defining and living in correspondence with their locations?
A legacy of connection
To live in this place of deep call and response, between our self and the wild, results in witnessing becoming a resource. It can be helpful to turn to poetry to better grasp what this kind of full bodied attention to the world around might offer us. In Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese, she writes:
‘The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.’6
She is expressing an experience of coming back into belonging and relationship with the land we dwell upon. Author and storyteller, Sharon Blackie, writes movingly, too, about our roles as guardians and protectors of the earth in her book If Women Rose Rooted: ‘We are not separate from the Earth; we are a part of it, whether we fully feel it yet in our bodies or not.’7 My work takes as its foundation that intuitive creative practices are a powerful way for us to find our way back into this connection
I might encourage you to choose a body-based theme for your deep mapping journey. For example, to notice, as you walk in your square mile, the instinctual pulls in your gut, either towards or away from an area, organism, or physical structure. I would encourage you to take your phone with you and, once experienced, to photograph these places of attraction and aversion.
This piece of work can reconnect us to our instinctual knowing. Nature offers us a wonderful opportunity that has often been sidelined because we spend so much time, busily focused, inside buildings. When you are out walking, and taking your time about it, you will be drawn along some pathways, and find yourself avoiding others. Sometimes, this will be a choice, and other times automatic. It can be so interesting to slow down and pay attention to that happening. Your gaze might alight on a particular detail in a tree, or your hearing might respond to some bird song. Your nose might pick up the scent of the earth or some sap from bark, or your body might be alerted by a movement in the undergrowth. There are so many ways your human organism will be subtly regulating itself and orienting as you take yourself on a walk. Noticing what is going on, and staying with yourself as you experience it, is allowing yourself to trust your being in the world as it unfolds and happens.
On your deep mapping journey, the environment offers your being possibilities that are revitalising. Your response to places within your square mile can offer a gentle way to get in touch with your somatic experience in real time, and opportunities to open and tend to neglected parts of your human capacity. In our sessions, I would offer you a guided visualisation to attune to sensation in your belly space, your heart space and your head space, and ask you to explore in your square mile, responding to leadings from these parts of you – the instinctual pulls and resistance within your belly, the feelings in your heart, as the curiosity of your open curious mind. This might be a simple as taking photographs of the features and things and moments that move these parts of your being. Your sense of your being as a receptive instrument can grow in confidence by having its innate wisdom acknowledged in this way.
By practising deep mapping in a square mile of inhabitation, participants are likely to become more engaged in the rest of their lives. Using the body to map, the heart to connect, and the imagination to make meaning, are processes of active engagement. Ingold describes this engagement as generative and life-giving.8 I would go further: it feels enlivening, sensual and joyous.
Of course, this practice is only separate from the rest of life in the sense that it is demarcated in time and space. When we notice how the environment complements us and furnishes our needs, we are likely to approach it in renewed ways. A person is likely to be changed, incrementally, by the process. This, of course, is significant for our social lives since, as humans, we also act as environmental resources for the other humans we meet. So, the fruits of a deep mapping practice will also inadvertently ripple into your wider life. These next words are from Annie, a participant in a deep mapping journey:
‘I have always found solace in the beauty outside my window, but the deep mapping journey allowed me, surprisingly quickly, to be of nature, to be in relationship and communication with nature. The state change is from myself as grateful observer to participant, embedded and fully connected – like I plugged into a circuit. In parts of my life, I have always struggled to be really here. This process allowed me to rest in presence without any leaning forward to the next thing.’
Being present with your three-centred being has been at the heart of this deep mapping process. You’ve needed to use your curiosity and receptivity to relate from your head centre, rather than the analytical or categorising brain. However, there is a place for the cognitive in this journey, and I would like to end by bringing this quality of the mind into your deep mapping journey. The mind of a relaxed human can be curious and open to new thoughts and ideas. Often, these emerge spontaneously once the body has become more sensitive to surroundings, and the heart and feeling centre are also engaging in this relationship of correspondence with the external. In your deep mapping journey, I would encourage you to learn the different names of trees, flowers, places, and to consider giving them new names or nicknames, yourself.
Next in this issue
Naming our landscapes
From what I inferred earlier about categorising and objectifying nature, it might seem as though using the mind to learn the names of trees or flowers or other aspects of the environment might be an exercise in separation; to apply labels could box things off from our direct experience of wonder and lose something of their beauty and vitality. This would indeed be a reductive, categorising kind of a naming process. However, there is another aspect of naming that literally summons a thing into being. Naming or nicknaming an animal or a child’s toy, for example, makes them more intimately real to us, and allows us to be in relationship with it in a different way than when it blends into the background, and is indistinct from the other animals or toys. Rob McFarlane and Jackie Morris are a writer and artist, respectively, whose project has been to reclaim nature words into the cultural imagination. In the introduction to The Wild Cards, they underline this belief that:
‘Names matter. Good names, well used, unlock mystery, grow knowledge, and summon wonder. And the right name for a thing can be a portal to a wholly new perspective on the thing itself. If you can name it, you are more likely to notice it; if you notice it, you are more likely to love it; and if you love it, you are more likely to care about saving it.’9
Humans who actively root themselves in location, engaging with the more-than-human world as an embodied three-centred organism, develop a strong sense of belonging to the earth. They are likely to become a life-giving generative force in their own life and within their wider communities. We, as a species, face important questions about our future and the future of our planet. It is in the spirit of contributing to this conversation about the purpose and contribution of humanity, that I share this practice and these ideas.
1 Pearson M, Shanks M. Theatre/archaeology. London: Routledge; 2001.
2 Mackey S. Performing place: the caer llan trilogy. [Show/Exhibition.] Caer Llan Centre, Monmouthshire; 2004.
3 Lyckow Bäckman C. Aspects of you: an exploration of the centres of intelligence and our instinctual drives. Norderstedt, Germany: Books on Demand; 2021.
4 Ingold T. Correspondences. London: Polity; 2021.
5 Taroni S. Take it to the trees. Amazon; 2021.
6 Oliver M. Wild Geese. Selected poems. Bala: Bloodaxe; 2004.
7 Blackie S. If women rose rooted. Tewkesbury: September Publishing; 2016.
8 Ingold T. Culture and the perception of the environment in bush base. In: Croll E, Parkin D (eds). Bush base: forest farm. Culture, environment and development. London: Routledge; 1992 (p38–56).
9 McFarlane M, Morris J. The wild cards: a 100 postcard box set. London: Hamish Hamilton; 2021.