Landscapes, Inner and Outer

Nov 8, 2021

By Mick Krasner, MD

…If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,

Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts

Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,

And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance—

If I should be where I no more can hear

Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams

Of past existence—wilt thou then forget

That on the banks of this delightful stream

We stood together; and that I, so long

A worshiper of Nature, hither came

Unwearied in that service; rather say

With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal

Of holier love…

From William Wordsworth, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

I recently attended the screening of a German documentary film titled Grenzland, which translates to Borderland. In it the filmmaker Andreas Voigt presents a series of miniature portraits of ordinary people on both sides of the river Oder which forms part of the border between Poland and Germany.  The lives of the protagonists in this film have been shaped by the ever-changing nature of this and many other borders around the world. This part of Europe although sparsely populated with small villages and few cities and rich and diverse in bird and plant life nevertheless has experienced in the past 100 years tremendous social, political, and economic upheaval.

Geologic time unfolds at a different pace than human time.  In Grenzland diverse communities have experienced a much more rapid changing landscape of opportunity and hope, violence, loss, and despair. Germans, Poles, Belarussians, Kurds, Syrians, Italians, Greeks, and Australians have comprised the human landscape of Grenzland. During an interview after the film, Andreas reflected on how we as humans inhabit landscapes, are part of them, change them and are changed by them, need them for our survival, measure our identities through them, and are comforted and challenged by them.

I remember moving to Rochester New York for my residency training many years ago. My first impressions here in June of 1987 were of oppressive vegetation coupled by a lack of vistas, the inability to see distances, something that my eyes had expected growing up in the more arid landscapes of southern California. I recall shortly after my arrival having to drive to a nearby town for some clothing shopping. Driving through that town, Henrietta, full of garish strip malls and grid-like streets, fewer trees, and less vegetation than the city of Rochester (it was probably farmland a generation ago and since had been subject to suburban sprawl), I suddenly felt calm, at home, and relaxed. It was as if I was back in Los Angeles, and although it could be described as not aesthetically pleasing, it was nevertheless much like home. It was familiar, and comfortable, and in it I had a sense of belonging, a sense of comfort and a sense of ease.

Reflecting on this now, the landscapes that seem external to us are very much imprinted within us, and along with our inner landscapes of embodied experiences of sensation, feelings, and thoughts, together create the senses of belonging and of meaning that we make of our world and of ourselves. The formal mindfulness practices that ground us in the foundations of mindfulness of the body, of feeling states, and of cognitions, bring into our awareness these landscapes, inner and outer. Our sense of belonging, of place, of comfort and ease, and of embodiment, dare I say our very sense of our self lies in the intimacy with which we recognize these inner and outer landscapes. For ourselves, for our colleagues and for our patients whom we serve, even if solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief arises, returning home to the place of belonging, over and over again, as a practice and as a conscious choice, has the great potential to allow us to abide fully, right there, which is always right here, in the only moments we have to abide, which is always right now. And within that abiding lies our freedom to create a life of meaning and of belonging.

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