There are places we meet briefly and with which we have short, passionate affairs. For a period of hours, days, maybe weeks, we love them intensely. We become so enamoured that we wish we could give up our normal lives and stay there forever. They have the potential to develop into longer love affairs, but ultimately, we have to leave them behind.
An oasis on the edge of the Sahara where the silence of the desert is filled with the collective moan of scores of camels. The eerie, mist-choked hills of Sicily on the road to Mount Etna, green shoots and buildings poking through hardened lava. The enchanted, forest path to Hareshaw Linn waterfall, so detached that it feels like another dimension. A string of bays on the Turkish coast where, at night, the fish trail luminescence in the water and meteors light up the sky.
These are all places I have loved briefly and ardently. Yet if I ever returned to these fondly remembered places, the chances are that I would never recapture that first magical meeting. If I was to take up permanent residence, I imagine the love affair would fade, until I would wonder what I ever saw in the place that I gave up everything for. So although sometimes they may haunt me with their potential, we’re destined not to have a future together.
There are places with which we develop more lasting relationships. Perhaps for a discrete period in time when we reside there, perhaps places we visit repeatedly over months or years. For me, there is the small mining village in Yorkshire that once smelled like the sulphur of the pits before they were all closed. The wooden cabin in the forest that I often retreat to. The exuberance and grandeur of Rome. These are places that court us with memory, with nostalgia. Places we begin to know a little and imagine that we’re at home there. They speak to something inside us.
And then there is that other place: our soul place. The place we arrive at and exhale; where we sigh with comfort and recognition, because we know we’re home. The place we go to for solace when we’re miserable. And where we go to experience joy. The place that calls you so that you must return, over and over again. Mine is a small tidal island in the north sea, dominated by a lighthouse. It is a place that is constant, but constantly shifting. A place that has many moods. Its smell is seaweed and salt; its sound is the sea and the birds.
Your relationship with your soul place is a kind of chemistry. You might visit somewhere similar and not feel it. I’ve travelled to more than twenty countries and been awe struck and felt glad to be alive, but I haven’t yet found another soul place. Perhaps it’s about our history: the way I have felt here and the experiences we have had. Perhaps it’s because I can conjure the moods of this place and know its history in my bones. Perhaps it is all of these things and none of them. It’s a connection that I can’t define, but can only feel. I know that I will always feel different here than in any other place. The masks drop away and I am myself. I don’t need anything else except to be here. In my soul place I am free.