Sowing the seeds for a deeper understanding of the power of nature as a healing space for individuals and communities
“Open Spaces Sacred Places” are public, outdoor, urban greenspaces designed with a variety of purposes in mind: healing and remembrance; peace and reconciliation; rest, respite and stress reduction; reflection, meditation and response to the natural world around. Each of these spaces is a unique expression of a situation, population or place-based need that was recognized by a Firesoul – a person who burns with the idea that access to nature can be a potent solution to some of the most intractable challenges we face in some of the toughest urban environments.
“Open” has two different meanings for TKF. First, an “open” space is one that is physically open, feels welcoming and is non-threatening to those who spend time in it. Second, an open space is one that is philosophically, ideologically and culturally “open” to the public, meaning all persons, regardless of race, gender, faith, culture or belief, are invited to enter the space. The space is for use by a whole community of different people rather than just one particular group.
The word “sacred” has many definitions, but for TKF, a sacred place is a space in nature, set aside from everyday life, which is meant to invite users into a deeper, healthier and more peaceful relationship with themselves, their neighbors, and the built world. Sacred spaces are intentionally designed to lift the human spirit and offer the opportunity for individual transformation, rather than simply to provide space for recreation or relaxation. Sacred space experiences provide a time and place for respite from the pressures of the world around and an opportunity for a deeper human experience through a spiritual connection to nature.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” Our hope is to accentuate what we believe is the increasingly critical need for more open, urban greenspace where individuals can connect with nature, and in doing so, with their own self-awareness or spirituality. In such spaces even for just a few moments, one can re-connect with one’s self and decompress from our stressful and plugged-in existence to experience the respite of a human just ‘being’ instead of a human constantly ‘doing’.
When one passes through an archway, a gate, a stand of trees, a pergola, or other marker there is a clear movement from the space of everyday life and functioning. One enters a reflective space and encounters the fascinations of nature.
Whether linear and well-defined, or more meandering, a path allows one to focus attention and achieve a mindfulness about the surroundings. A path can ground one with the earth while offering a sense of connection to a greater reality that is sacredness.
An appealing feature or end point draws in a person to the welcoming space. The sojourn, however brief, is rewarded by a feature that encourages quiet, fascination, joy, and spiritual connection with nature.
Design elements — such as plantings, fencing, or trees — provide an encompassing sense of boundary, safety and enclosure within the Open Space Sacred Place. Portal, path and destination invite one to experience a space; the sense of surround ensures that one experiences a sense of being away and an emotional separation from the stress and challenges of life.
A place of respite that invites one to pause and reflect. More than just a place to sit, the presence of a Bench in an Open Space Sacred Place is an invitation to pause on one’s journey – to sit, to rest, to breathe, to be present, to experience all the gifts that an Open Space Sacred Place has to offer.
Each garden that TKF helps to create includes an iconic bench. In partnership with the Maryland Correctional Enterprises, TKF benches are built by inmates who are learning fine carpentry skills to help them secure profitable and rewarding employment upon release from the Western Correctional Institution in Lavale, Md. The benches are made from reclaimed pickle barrel wood that is more than 100 years old. They are an integral part of a sacred place.
A specially created waterproof, blank book and pen combination – located beneath the bench – that invites visitors to an Open Space Sacred Place to articulate their experience. Visitors share words or images of the experience of being in a sacred place. More than a simple diary, record, or log of daily events, a Journal is a collection of inspiring thoughts and reflections that attest to our need for opportunities to connect with each other and be in nature.
An individual compelled to share their vision of the healing power of nature. More than a caretaker, a Firesoul is a person driven by a passion for creating, maintaining and sharing the healing gifts of Open Spaces Sacred Places with others.