Stepping off the train, the humidity settles over you, seeping into your pores, and the pungent mixture of spices, donkeys and sweat greets you.
The fig trees sway in the gentle Mediterranean breeze, cotton clouds scattered across the crystal blue-sky cast shadows over the plaza. Strangely, even though you have never been here before, you feel as if you’ve come home.
You have found a soul place.
A soul place is an island, a building, a city, or a natural vista that speaks to you in a language unheard. It opens up a space within that you didn’t realize was closed.
Jeffery Paine writes that a soul or sacred place is “a sense of connection between inner and outer landscape. The softening of the heart.”
Others would argue that the earth’s energy, things such as magnetic variances and ionization, creates an invisible sense of harmony and well being. This produces a sense of awe that is usually inspired by nature’s beauty.
Niagara Falls, a special place for many, is said to have the highest concentration of negative ions, caused by the quantity of the rushing water, in the world.
Memories From Our Ancestors
Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize winning author, was born and raised in Jackson, MS. His wife’s job as a city planner took them to many cities but when they moved to New Orleans, Ford said he had “an instantaneous recognition.”
Even now, living in Maine, he considers New Orleans home.
Often we are inspired to build monuments on these sacred grounds: pyramids, cities, stone circles, churches, mosques. Whatever caused our ancestors to pilgrimage to these spots, it is still drawing us as well.
Scientists suggest that our genes may have the ability to carry memories from our ancestors.
Perhaps the earthy taste of freshly squeezed olive oil, never before experienced, causes you to feel as one with the rocky landscape of a Greek island. Could that be a mysterious taste welcoming you back to the land from which you came?
No matter the reason, we are inexplicably attracted to locations and feel a connection that we cannot readily explain.
In their special issue on Sacred Places, U.S. News and World Report states that that these spots are “as varied as the human sense of the sacred and as various as the world’s spiritual traditions.”
An Individual Definition
A soul place cannot be defined as purely a sacred place. The significance could be religious, spiritual, inspirational, or simply calming and peaceful. What defines a soul place is as individual as each of us.
Fellow travelers may experience different soul places on the same trip. The appeal of each location is as unique as the attraction between two people. A chemistry that flows, unseen and mysterious.
And like love, you can experience many soul places.One spot may appeal to your desire to play the guitar, another allows you an inner peace, while a third may feel like a comfortable old shoe.
Ask any group of people what their soul or sacred place is and the answers will be as distinct as the person.
In recent surveys, listed on Belief.net and on the U.S. News and World Report website, people posted a long list: Mt. Shasta, a civil war cemetery, a 250 year old oak tree, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the family farm and any number of religious buildings and sites.
The best thing about soul places is that they are an unexpected and welcome find. Keep an open mind and heart and you will discover yours.
Have you found any of your soul places? How did you know? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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Jennifer Blair is a production supervisor on feature films. Recently she rediscovered her passion for adventure and travel while hiking a mountain in Belize with a broken rib. Check out her exploits and ramblings at her blog.