My special place

Do you have a special place? I have a special place but didn’t know that’s what it was until a few months ago, when Mike the Shrink asked me a question. We were talking about Visual Imagery or some other Capital Letter system of mental calming or stress reduction or something like that.

Mike told me that it is useful to identify some place where you feel happy, or calm, or whatever is germane and good for you. It can be a real place you know, he said — somewhere you’ve been or even a place you’ve only wanted to go — or someplace completely made up. Whichever, he said to identify such a place and make it my special place. Then, in difficult moments, I could call up that special place and calm myself with it.

This seemed a little pop-psych-y to me, or like the 12-year-old girl with a picture of Shaun Cassidy on her wall who was SURE she would be Shaun’s girlfriend by the end of 7th grade. But I trust Mike so I played along. He asked, “What place will you use? What’s your special place?”

As usual I looked at Mike’s potted plants and went away. I drifted.

“Don’t think too much about it. The whole point is that your special place needs to be like a reflex. It should be automatic. So what’s your special place?”

It was hard not to think — it always is — but I managed, at least for a few seconds.

“There’s a spot in a vineyard outside Fitou where I had lunch one day last spring. It was just the nicest place and a beautiful day; I even took a picture of myself sitting there. I loved the cool weather but it was significant in that trip because…”

“That’s good enough. I get it. So that’s your special place.”

On my way home from Mike’s office I couldn’t stop thinking about my special place. I relished the memory of the hour I spent there in the cool sunshine in the spring of 2013. I relished the memory of my ham sandwich. I relished the memory of being in a place where I felt so comfortable and didn’t have to think about anything and could just feel the world around me, the world I’d made for myself.

What do you know? Mike got me. Pop-psych or not, what he was suggesting was valuable, and the hour I spent on the bus after that appointment with him was proof of it. My special place, whether I was there or not, had power.

Yesterday, on my first hike outside of Fitou, I headed for my special place. I wrapped up a ham-and-cheese sandwich and started walking. And it was still there.

There’s really no reason it shouldn’t have been there. It’s a ruin of an ancient shepherd’s hut, little more than a couple of yards of stone wall, with a well adjacent to it. Decades and centuries ago men huddled inside to shelter themselves against the winds from the Pyrenees but now…just a few rocks. Sometime back — after the last war, maybe — someone poured a layer of concrete over those rocks.

I sat on that stone wall and ate my sandwich and radishes and drank my wine and read my book. It was overcast and a little warmer than my first time there but the magic held. A car or two passed my special place, on their way to somewhere else. Surely their occupants glanced at me, or maybe not, unaware that something important was happening on the side of the road. Several little tractors made their way into the vineyards, likely to finish the harvest. Not only didn’t they break my reverie, they became a part of it. My special place now has new dimensions.

I’m lucky that my special place is real and I can go there and eat lunch.

Here is the view from my special place.

Do you have a special place?