A sunshine soaked classroom, a windowless office, a tiny, tucked away bar. This month I’ve been so incredibly lucky to walk into three places — three unlikely places — and find myself in the palpable ineffable. These places are marked by a calm, yes, but also by some sort of vibrating adventure, a joyousness, and something deeply safe. In such thin places, very little separates the sacred and the ordinary. They “transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves” (to quote Eric Weiner).
Why are thin places so? They are beautiful of course. And maybe some of them are on the earth’s energetic grid-line intersections as my friends tell me. But it’s more than that. Thin places are tended. When Bill Yidumduma Harney came to our town (our town!) , he described how the aboriginal people of Australia spend part of each year walking about to sacred spots on the earth and tending them. The sacred places need this care, and if the people forget how — or stop their care — Bill fears for the earth. This surprised me since I had thought of sacred places as self-sufficient — like we need them but not vice versa. It wasn’t until I started noticing specific thin places inside larger human-made buildings that I really started to grasp the people’s role. So how does it happen? How do we tend or even create a thin space? Here’s what I saw and heard from the tenders themselves:
Clean: Most Native tenders say this first: “Oh we go clean it up, sweep it.” The same is true of the three building spaces I visited this month. Spotless. And in some way, each of the rest of the tending activities falls under this one category.
Cleanse: You might be surprised how often an herb is burnt, a liquid splashed for blessing or luck — even in the most modern and secular places.
Say some word(s) over and over that have special meaning to you when you’re there: You may pray, sing, or hum the same song everyday, repeat your favorite word a lot, or convene each day or encounter with a beloved phrase.
Align: I’m not talking only arcane tribal customs or feng shui — though those are powerful — but it’s interesting that each of the more modern tenders I spoke with referred to themselves as OCD or compulsive or something. They line stuff up. And when it gets out of the place it belongs — which it will, and in fact they want it to — they put it back.
Place sacred objects: All tenders import totems meaningful to them, to the activity at hand and to what they want to have happen. Next time you are in a place where you feel the magic — at someone’s kitchen table perhaps or even in an office cubicle — look around. Ask your host about something you see. Ask why it’s there. They will have a reason and a story.
Gather: Thin places need the people to gather in at least groups of two periodically. In most thin places, many people come together at times. Something happens when we encounter one another, and the place soaks it up.
Be glad: Tenders are glad to be there. They are glad to see the people who come there. As a result of that (and some spiritual bravery plus other things I am trying to figure out) they are kind. Welcoming.
Know you are doing what you are doing — Maybe you want to call this “intention.” Each tender knew right away what I meant when I asked about their place. No coy naivete. They are creating a place for the world and its inhabitants. And themselves, by the way.
Repeat: Over and over, a gentle stroking — the cleaning, cleansing, verbalizing, aligning, gathering, welcoming, intending, and every ritual activity — consecrates the place. That’s why we say the veil is thin there. Our tenders love it to gossamer. No wonder it sparkles. And they do too.
[See also: “How to Make Yourself Thin.”]