Internal Landscapes

LIVING AS APPRENTICES                                                                    

Modified from a scan of a plate of "Poste...

Modified from a scan of a plate of “Posterior and inferior cornua of left lateral ventricle exposed from the side” in Gray’s Anatomy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Did you know that your hippocampus (part of your brain) specializes in the memory of place?  According to Dr.  Esther Sternberg*,  research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, the hippocampus integrates all of the incoming sensory signals from the visual cortex, from the auditory cortex, from the olfactory bulb.  So  the hippocampal cells take what you hear and see and smell, and create a sense of place and then preserve it in your memory.  These cells are actually your own internal GPS system.

This little piece of science is more than a “fact for the day.”  It is an encouragement to try a delightful soul-training exercise using your memory.  It is possible to find create a space of peace and serenity for ourselves even while chaos and madness are swirling around us.  First, we make a choice not to participate in the confusion.  Second, we think of a favorite place we have visited (connect to a scent, or a scene, or a lovely sound to bring you to that place).  When you have found your memory, stay in that place for a while until the calmness of the memory makes you capable of  handling the turmoil of the moment.

You can also make intentional memories.  When you find a soothing environment, take a moment to sear it into your memory.  Listen to the sounds, dwell in the view, drink in the aroma.  If you are really living in the  moment, you can create life-giving memories for the future. The more memories you create, the easier it will be to use your internal GPS to find a spot of refuge.

Create a place in your home or yard that reminds you of peace and harmony.  Dr. Sternberg describes the re-creation of a healing place she experienced in Crete in her own home:

“I have on my deck in Washington a gardenia tree and jasmine bush, and I can sit there in the evening in the summer and listen to the crickets and inhale the scent that reminds me of the orange blossoms and lemon blossoms from the Mediterranean. And I have lavender and I have basil, you know, all these fragrant plants that I find very soothing and healing. You can create your own little space wherever it is. And if you don’t have a deck, you can put a few plants in a window.”

The serenity prayer reminds us that we can learn to accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can.  Creating and then re-visiting internal landscapes, sacred spaces, if you will, can help make this vision of life more attainable.

*For more of Dr. Sternberg’s ideas and experiences, go to, the website of Krista Tippet’s program On Being (NPR) and look for the program The Science of Healing Places. You can find the entire transcript or a podcast of the program.  You can also find many little nooks of joy on the On Being website.

I also encourage you to visit Michael Lai’s picture book blog: retireediary.  You’ll find it under Blogs I Follow in the right margin.  Click on it and find yourself in a memorable album of sacred spaces.

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2 Responses to Internal Landscapes

  1. I thought that all of her comments were “Apprentice-like” – especially because she urged us to be intentional about creating space.

  2. Jayne Cummings says:

    I heard the program on NPR with Dr Sternberg? as well. Loved it when she described her special “place”.

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