Finding a Secret Spot
Your secret spot is somewhere you can sit alone in nature and just be.
At it's simplest, all you have to do is go into the garden (or somewhere outside that you like) and just sit there for 15 minutes (more is okay), every day. Or nearly every day.
It should be the same place that you visit regularly, not dozens of places that you rotate or just visit once or twice ever. The location you choose is a tradeoff between somewhere natural (with lots of nice natural features) and somewhere that's accessible and easy to get to. Basically, pick the place that's the most natural, and you like the most, out of places that are close enough that you'll actually go there every day (or almost every day).
It's one of those things which is much more useful than it seems like it would be. It's also suprisingly much harder to do than it seems like it would be.
Of course it can be made more complicated later on, and to some extent this is a good idea as you develop. However just the basic idea of being somewhere, in nature, without an agenda, is itself extremely educational — in fact more so than you would ever have imagined if you've lived all (or nearly all) your life within modern Western culture. So even after you add extra things to do at your secret spot it's still a really good idea to spend plenty of unscheduled time there.
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Image: A "secret" location with grass and other plants. High Resolution 4014 x 1812.
I got the name "secret spot" from a correspondence course called the Kamana Naturalist Training Program that's run by Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) in the United States.
One of the best gifts I have to offer is that I have seen certain successes over and over again in my mentoring of naturalists and trackers. There are certain common traits among people who become masterful in their abilities to read the language of the birds, develop good instincts, learn survival skills, excel in their understanding of the uses of plants, and learn the language of tracking. One essential practice all these people share in common is the practice of connecting with one place in nature deeply and regularly.
Jon Young, Kamana Two Nature Awareness Trail Manual, page 20.
Jon Young, founder of Wilderness Awareness School, based the name on the "secret place" that was featured in the book The Education of Little Tree. There's also a movie of the book, which used to be very hard to find (I once had a TAFE library order it from another TAFE library, which was the only way I could find it at the time). Right now it's on YouTube but may not stay there for long.
It can also be called a sit spot, and in The Education of Little Tree it's called a secret place:
Following the spring branch was how I found the secret place.
It was a little ways up the side of the mountain and hemmed in with laurel. It
was not very big, a grass knoll with an old sweet gum tree bending down. When I
saw it, I knew it was my secret place, and so I went there a whole lot.
Ol’ Maud [his dog] taken to going with me. She liked it too, and we would sit under the
sweet gum and listen—and watch. Ol’ Maud never made a sound in the secret place.
She knew it was secret.
Once in the late afternoon me and ol’ Maud was sitting with our backs against
the sweet gum, and watching when I saw a flicker of something move a ways off.
It was Granma. She had passed not far from us. But I figured she hadn’t seen my
secret place at all or she would of said something.
Granma could move quieter than a whisper through wood leaves. I followed her
and she was root gathering. I caught up to help and me and Granma set down on a
log to sort the roots out. I reckined I was too young to keep a secret, for I
had to tell Granma about my place. She wasn’t surprised—which surprised me.
Granma said all Cherokees had a secret place. She told me she had one and
Granpa had one. She said she had never asked, but she believed Granpa’s was on
top of the mountain, on the high trail. She said she reckined most everybody had
a secret place, but she couldn’t be certain, as she had never made inquiries of
it. Granma said it was necessary. Which made me feel right good about having
From the chapter 'The Secret Place' in The Education of Little Tree.
The Education of Little Tree has a controversial history.
Although Carter's themes are more representative of Appalachian culture than Cherokee culture, the "truth" in the story is that Carter is portraying his own beliefs and experiences.
....I also believe that the relationship between man and nature presented in The Education of Little Tree is an idea that Carter intended to pass to the reader. The reason for this is that, being from the rural South as Carter was, I understand the importance that land holds for the Southerner.
.....what I find in this book is a man looking back over his life, deciding what is important, and presenting this to his readers.
Clayton M. Darwin, "Now, This Is a True Story."
What to Actually Do
The idea is that you find a place to go and sit (or just hang out there) every day, by yourself. It doesn't have to be absolutely every day, but the more the better.
I've found that it's important to use some amount of self-discipline with it. Otherwise the distractions of modern life tend to take over and there's no time left for sitting at your secret spot.
It's a lot better if your secret spot is outside, rather than inside. If you live in a small unit, and there's really nowhere else to go in the local area that you could use, you could use an inside location where you can see out a window. Or a balcony. A balcony of a house, looking towards a garden, would also count as mostly outside.
The experience is meant to work better if you don't have anything electronic there with you. At least not most of the time. Or that if you do, you're not interacting with it very much. Which means that sitting there for 15 minutes playing with Facebook (or Snapchat, or anything on your phone) the entire time definitely doesn't count. I've heard that even something as innocent-seeming as an electronic wrist watch can detract from being connected to nature. For this reason, several years ago I started wearing mechanical spring powered watches with no electronics in them at all.
Go out to the wilderness, my friend, and find a place. I call it a sacred place. A secret place, just yours. Just a little place for you — go and sit there. And learn to meditate. Take off your shoes so you can feel the energy of Mother Earth coming up from the ground. Lay the back of your hands down on the earth..... And breathe in. Very slowly. Very deeply. Breathe out very slowly and very deeply. Listen. To every sound. The rustle of the leaves, the little bird there. The little mountain stream. Taste the air. Smell the air. Soak all these things in, bring them into yourself down to your very gut. Just like blotting paper soaks up ink, you soak that up and bring it into you. Just look into the wilderness. Say, "help me". And you'll get an answer.
Ingwe: Spirit of the Leopard, audio recording by M. Norman Powell.
Journaling / Storytelling
With this I'm aiming to go back into some kind of "beginner's mind", and imagining that I'm starting all over again, from the beginning.
You may wish to journal what you experience at your secret spot. I'll do this for a while and then continue on my own...
Day 1 - Wednesday
I took my Kamana book with me, and read some of the first book. I was supposed to stay there for at least 15 minutes. I didn't look at the time much so I don't know how long I was there but it would have been nearly an hour, perhaps an hour.
In the kamana book I read what needed to be done for the first field pack assigment. I tried out some wide angle vision exercises for a while. Which means trying to watch as much as possible of my whole field of view, using my peripheral vision.
I'm using a red coloured picnic mat which has a rubbery waterproof bottom.
I took some photos with an old digital SLR and then with my phone. Fortunately, for some reason my phone camera was set to panorama mode, which I'd never used before. It was quite easy to use and allowed me to take a wider angle photograph of my secret spot than I could have otherwise.
I noticed my eyesight had improved afterwards.
Day 2 - Thursday
I had to push myself to go there today, as I had a number of things to get done, and the number kept increasing as the day went on. So I didn't feel like there was time to be sitting around in the garden. However once I got there, it was nice being there. I did notice that my mind started to slow down. Now that I'm back inside (at the computer) it's like I've gone into computer-using mode and forgotten a lot, but not all, of what I was thinking and feeling then.
I was noticing a lot of negative feelings about modern society. Which I have all the time, but they were more obvious and more emotional rather than just something I'm aware of logically. I've read of many others with the same experience so I guess it's pretty normal. It was definitely reminding me a lot of when I was a kid (like 7-11 years old) and spent a lot of time in the garden and in the bush. There were a lot of times then when I wondered why everyone didn't want to be here, where so many happy feelings were. When it was time to go home (which usually meant when night was approaching) I'd walk back along the track towards home and look up at all the houses. (In the Blue Mountains nearly all the settlement is along ridges, and most of the bush tracks go down into valleys, so I was looking up at them). They were looming, foreboding even, and I wondered why "everyone" would stay up there basically all the time, as if they were in a prison with no visible bars but with some other kind of force that kept them there. I also remembered fantasising about making "primitive" (though I wouldn't have used that word) houses in the bush, like tree houses or some other kind of basic accommodation, and living there with everyone else I knew.
It also made me think about my childhood awareness, which I think of as baseline behaviour for humans (or at least much more like it than I usually am). And wonder if the current generation of children will ever experience that at all, ever, due to the huge increase in the use of addictive electronic devices which speed up the logical thinking parts of the brain.
Day 3 - Friday
This is interesting because I've been out all day and it's now 9pm. Which means my day 3 of secret spot is going to be in the dark. If the idea of sitting outside in the dark is a big deal for you, that's no problem. It's not like you absolutely need to do it every day. I'm trying to approach this with a beginners mind, as if I've never done anything like this before, but even with that I think I'm up to the task. If the garden seemed like too much, I could sit on the paving stones which border the back lawn, with the lights on. That would still count as outside although there's a roof overhead, it's not enclosed at all.
The main hazard that I'm aware of on the lawn is that there's brown trapdoor spider holes all over the place, and they come out at night. I've got the thick picnic blanket with the rubbery backing so hopefully that will save me from spiderly death. The trapdoors aren't deadly anyway, although I really don't want to be bitten by one.
Perhaps I'll photograph something while I'm out there. The moon is up, and there's also something else I have in mind, if it's there.
The moon was too cloudy. I did photograph something which I need to photoshop for here.
It was okay sitting outside. The worst thing was the strong smell of Aerogard which gave me a sore throat. After a while I started to feel more relaxed, though it was definitely less relaxed overall than in the daytime.
Day 4 - Saturday
This was a busy day and I sat for just the minimum of 15 minutes. It was around the middle of the day and there wasn't any mosquitoes which was great. I really enjoyed it and wished I had time to stay there longer.
Day 5 - Sunday
Again a busy day and I sat for just 15 minutes, in the early afternoon. I didn't notice mosquitoes today either. Again I wanted to stay longer but there were many things still to do.
Day 6 - Monday
I was getting bitten by mosquitoes today, only a few thankfully. I could have gotten up to get some spray from the house, but there wasn't that many and I was trying to imagine what it would be like if there was no such thing as insect repellent.
Day 7 - Tuesday
Today is raining. I waited until the rain had eased off and was only quite light. I could have sat under the balcony, or in the actual garden with a large umbrella — however I wanted to do it more "properly" than that. I'm thinking of the idea as to gradually extend my comfort zone, by doing things that are somewhat uncomfortable. But not so much that the whole thing seems like a drudgery.
I had a beanie on and a hoodie, and gloves, which I thought would help against mosquitoes. No Aerogard or any kind of insect spray today at all. Happily, I didn't see one mozzie the whole time I was outside. I guess because they don't like the rain.
After five minutes, it started raining again, hard. But by this time I was determined to stay sitting for the whole 15 minutes. I folded up the parts of the picnic blanket I wasn't sitting on, and moved so I could wrap most of my shoes in them. My shoes were the thing I least wanted to get wet (becuase they're the hardest to dry). My watch is waterproof so that was no problem and I didn't have anything electronic with me.
It wasn't that cold (19 degrees celsuis outside). The rain seemed like it would feel colder than it did. Suprisingly, I would have liked to stay there longer, even in the rain, but as usual there were other things to do (like dry my clothes and get ready for work). It felt different in the rain (obviously), but not just from the wetness — it felt much more private, like no-one else would be out here in this weather, and I was more like one of the animals than one of the people.
When I went inside, my iothes were wet enough to wring out by hand, and wet enough to put them through the spin cycle of the washing machine before going in the dryer.
Day 8 - Wednesday
Another rainy day. It stopped raining for a while, so I sat outside then. There were a few mozzies, about one a minute. I managed to not need repellent spray by covering myself up well, with thick gloves, a hoodie, long track pants, and then I wrapped the rest of myself (feet, undersides of legs, and lower part of my back) in the parts of the rubber picnic blanket which I wasn't sitting on. That worked well enough.
I didn't feel very into it at all when I started, as I had so many other things to get done. After a while I relaxed much more, and after the 15 minutes were up I would have liked to stay there longer. Again. This seems to be happening a lot.
I put this web page about finding a secret spot online today.
Day 9 - Thursday
It's currently 11:00pm and I haven't had time to go out yet. About to do it.
(Now afterwards)... It was okay, I was quite sleepy which distracted from the experience. Being out in the dark felt like much less of a big deal than the first time. I noticed more sounds than usual, even without trying to. I practiced some wide angle vision / peripheral vision for a couple of minutes. I'm thinking that the next comfort zone to break through will be in the dark and in the rain. Although I haven't taken off my shoes yet (like in the quote above by Ingwe) so that would also count. Without covering my feet in Aerogard I'm not sure how that will work. Hopefully there will be some mozzie free autumn and winter sunny daytimes when this can happen.
So far with Kamana I've been pretty lucky and there hasn't been that many. When they're really bad here I can swat my leg and get three in the one stroke of my hand. I feel like mosquitoes are going to be, by far, my biggest stumbling block with this. Perhaps, by practicing my secret spot I'll learn to get over my fear of them. They're meant to be, by far, the world's most deadly animal in terms of the number of people killed by them every year, even ahead of humans. There's no malaria here but there is Ross River Virus. Which is spread by mosquitoes which have bitten kangaroos or wallabies which carry the disease, and there's the occasional wallaby at my secret spot. If not for that I'd be much less concerned about copping some bites and just putting up with the itching.
After looking up those statistics about deaths caused by animals, I read that 1.3 million people a year die in car crashes worldwide. Which is nearly double the 725,000 killed by mosquitoes. That makes the mosquito seem somewhat less of a threat. While I'm on this subject, apparently in just the USA and Europe (combined), 328,000 people a year die from taking prescription drugs as prescribed to them (not including overdoses etc.)
The study estimating that 100,000 Americans die each year from their prescriptions looked only at deaths from known side effects. That is, those deaths didn’t happen because the doctor made a mistake and prescribed the wrong drug, or the pharmacist made a mistake in filling the prescription, or the patient accidentally took too much.
Which also makes mosquitoes seem less of a big deal.
Day 10 - Friday
Today I went to my secret spot in the morning. It didn't feel like very long since last night, but I wanted to get it done early since it looked like it would start raining more later on in the day. Plus I didn't want it to get left till almost midnight again. After 5 minutes I noticed there were no mosquitoes at all so I thought I'll try and take off my shoes and socks, and place my bare feet on the wet long grass (like Ingwe says to). It really did feel great, and it made me notice how alien the rest of my body felt in comparison. I mean physically alien, or perhaps energetically or something deep like that. But just a feeling of wrongness and discomfort, that I noticed agains the nice feeling of my feet being connected to the earth. I've measured electrical resistance between the human body and the earth before (which will eventually become a page on this website). Using a multimeter. And definitely the rubbery picnic blanket would be massively insulating, and having bare feet touching wet grass would be highly conductive. So apart from anything else that may or may not exist (or be proveable), it felt better to me and there's a definite measurable electrical difference between the two.
Amazingly there were no mosquitoes the whole 20 minutes I was sitting there. I didn't even see one. It was making me wonder if that was somehow meant to be, after writing everything that I did last night about them. Perhaps after a while the "vibes" of the place get used to you being there, and (at least some of) the natural hazards leave you alone. I've read stories, which I presumed to be true, about native people walking right past fierce predators like tigers all the time — but then the tigers attacking and mauling or killing people who weren't from the area (like white tourists and/or other urban people). I'm sure sometimes native people were also attacked, but it really did seem like there was something to these stories more than pure chance. As if doing something like the secret spot, often, regularly, isn't just about you getting used to a place, but also (and perhaps even more importantly) about the place getting used to you.
Day 11 - Saturday
I had to wait for it to stop raining. Earlier I was considering sitting in the rain again but I didn't have time to dry my clothes. Again I felt rushed, but then after the 15 minutes I wished I could stay there longer.
Day 12 - Sunday
Another rainy day and I'll see how much time I get before it rains again. For the first time, I'll bring an umbrella in case the rain comes back (which looks quite likely).
(After)... The umbrella worked well. I wrapped the edges of the picnic blanket around me so I was covered up to my waist, with the rubber underside of the mat facing upwards into the rain. At 14 minutes the rain got really heavy so I waited another five minutes and then it nearly stopped and I went back inside.
Day 13 - Monday
Today it hasn't rained yet and there was even some sun. I took off my shoes and socks and put my feet and the lower half of my legs on the (still damp) grass. Happily there were no mosquitoes at all (at 2:00 pm). There were, however, lots of small black ants. Of three different sizes, all pretty small but different enough that they were presumably three different species. I moved my "anchor point" i.e. the exact spot where I sat around a bit, but I couldn't find anywhere that didn't have them. Perhaps they were out much more since it's the first semi-dry day for a couple of weeks. I tried ignoring them and killing them, a combination of both seemed to be the best. Usually ones that bit me got killed and sometimes the others. That was after a few minutes of trying to ignore them, which became increasingly difficult as the bites and the crawly feelings mounted up. I wasn't counting but probably got bit about 30 times (so twice a minute approximately). Ant bites are (for me) far less annoying than mosquito bites but still somewhat annoying (my legs are still itchy now). If this continues I'll have to move my anchor point even more. If I'd stayed completely on the mat like I did for most of the previous days, it would have been much better or entirely better. However I'm trying to become more "natural" and more used to being outside without man-made accessories, so I want to gradually push the boundaries, a bit at a time.
When I read about ancient or "primitive" people, I don't get the impression they were being bitten by thousands of tiny creatures, nonstop, essentially all of the time. However that's what it sometimes seems like when me as a modern person contemplates going into the bush without any of the products and aids from modern society. Presumably after a long time of doing things like practicing my secret spot, it will become really obvious where the ants, mosquitoes, and other biting creatures will be, and when. And what to do to avoid them without having to cover up with and/or shelter inside of and/or spray with products made from petrochemicals (i.e. from crude oil).
Day 14 - Tuesday
Today I sat on the mat, I didn't take off my shoes or socks. I didn't want any ants on me. I had Aerogard but didn't need it. The mosquitoes have really been much better lately.
Day 15 - Wednesday
There was a lot of sun today, no mosquitoes, and only a few ants. A lot of sun meaning about half the sky was blue, which is by far the most since I started doing the secret spot. I took off my shoes and socks and the ants didn't bother me at all. I wonder why today was so different to last time with the ants behaviour.
Day 16 Thursday
This morning the hard drive that I had Windows on died. The Windows installation which I've been using to work on survival.org.au. So I've spent considerable time recovering my website from backups, and copying them to my laptop, on which I'm typing this. I haven't done my secret spot yet, I have to go out soon and also I have a lot of new things to do, some of which I'll try and do before that (like get a new hard drive).
(After)... Well, I bought my new hard drive. I'll install it tonight and tomorrow. Sitting at my secret spot I was more distracted than usual. It was more like I was just waiting for the time to be up, almost like a feeling of sitting on a train or bus — just waiting to get to the end like it was part of the routine. Especially since I was already late for this afternoon's appointment and had notified that I'd be an hour later than I was meant to be there. I could have waited until tonight but then it would be dark, there would be more mozzies, and it would probably be raining. It feels like the point of today's journal post is mainly to demonstrate the process of being disciplined to keep doing the secret spot even when there are obstacles.
I got one mosquito bite on my back, then I sprayed the top of my hat (an old Akubra) and the mat behind me. I only saw one more after that.
After 10 minutes it started raining lightly but I was determined to stay there for the rest of the 15 minutes, even if it meant being wet for a while afterwards. Since the whole point of this is to get used to living with the reality of being out in the natural world. I'm only slightly damp. I'm writing it up immediately afterwards since I missed a couple of days earlier in the week, and then it's hard to remember what I was thinking about when I write up the journal entries 2-3 days late.
I'll update this properly soon...
The Other Way to Listen - Byrd Baylor and others.
Ingwe: Spirit of the Leopard (which is both a book and an audio recording that was available on cassette and CD. All of these maybe out of print now but available secondhand or as "new old stock"). Possibly still available from Wilderness Awareness School in the USA. I think you need to phone them for international orders.
Seeing Through Native Eyes, audio series (there's an old and a new version, they're both very good).
The Tracker by Tom Brown, Jr.
The Education of Little Tree (which was originally a book and then a movie was made).
Starting Your Own Box Garden
Starting a Vegetable Garden
Get Started with Learning Plant Foods
Basics and General Skills
again before book feel garden idea minutes mosquitoes nature outside people perhaps rain raining read secret shoes sit sitting spot started stay tree whole
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