By Icy Frantz
Every day this past August, I took my place in the second row – third in from the right, directly behind the square speaker on the wall, and in front of the small rack of weights.
I had been running late the first morning, and by the time I arrived at the class, there had been only one spot left, so I took it. I had no other choice. But then, like a magnet, I was drawn to it, day after day – a rectangle of soft wood where I lay my mat. It beckoned me and gave me comfort, my home for the hour.
This is not the first time I felt a gravitational pull to return to a designated place within a room, an auditorium, or an exercise class; I have been doing this for as long as I can remember.
In college, I took an English seminar that met around a Harkness table in a room decorated with a few framed posters on the walls that appropriately displayed quotes from prominent authors. The professor always took the chair nearest the door, with his dog by his side, and an unlit pipe that he held between his fingers (he was literally out of Central Casting).
The rest of us, his students, had filed in on the first day and found a seat. And then for the remainder of the semester we returned to “our” seat (and not because the seat had been assigned), I sat between Pete Reevis, a senior majoring in English, who had a full beard, Birkenstocks, and ugly toes (ugly enough that I still remember them today), and Eliza Wilson, a social sophomore more interested in the boy across the table than the content of the class. I never questioned my seat at that Harkness table; I just fell in line.
But what is this strange phenomenon all about, anyway?
Walking home from yoga one morning, where for the month I had essentially leased that space in front of the small rack of weights, I asked my daughter her thoughts on the topic (or, more precisely, I had shared my own – “Don’t you think it’s like a dog marking its territory?” “Please Mom, don’t write that…”).
But could it be true that as human beings, we feel a need to stake out our surroundings? Maybe not in the same way as dogs (thankfully), but as if to say, “This is my place”?
As it turns out, I am not the only one pondering this strange phenomenon. Researchers have noted that choosing the same spot in a classroom allows the student to effectively regulate their environment, giving a student the ability to be more available and present to the material that is being taught. There is also a sense of safety and control that comes with knowing where to go within a room, allowing the student to feel more comfortable and less vulnerable. And yes, like our four-legged furry friends, we as human beings are territorial.
And although I have admitted to adhering to this psychological phenomenon, I wonder if am missing out by doing so.
I am all-in for setting a stage that makes learning and work more effective. But by gaining a perceived sense of safety, control, and comfort, are we losing out on the benefits of being vulnerable, as well as the opportunity for enhanced perspectives?
I have a friend who always astonishes me. While I tend to lean into the “safer” shelters of life, she consistently chooses the opposite. She takes risks, immerses herself in different cultures, and surrounds herself with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. She intentionally chooses experiences – the unconventional ones – that will grow her as a person. And she often accepts and tolerates the uncomfortable, as she knows the rewards are great – and worth it.
Now, I know this may seem like a big jump – can the habit of returning to the same place within a yoga class or academic classroom truly equate to an inability to embrace a world where we might feel exposed; but one that might provide an overall broader life experience?
If we unconsciously find “our place” – of safety and comfort – and never venture beyond, are we doing this in other parts of our life as well?
I would argue that this is a habit worth considering and questioning.
On my last day of yoga class, I was running late once again. When I entered the room, my place in front of the small rack of weights was occupied (!!!). After getting over the shock that another yogi had stolen my spot, I reluctantly lay my mat down across the room.
But the woman to the right of this new, foreign spot whispered to me, “I’m Susan”. I looked up and noticed the light coming in from the partially covered window, and directly above me was a small stream of air – it felt good. From my new place, I was closer to the teacher and the music was a little louder. The whole experience was a little different.
So, lets change it up- throw off the tethers that bind us to that same seat, our one place- a big world is awaiting us, needing us both within and beyond the classroom.
The Icing on the Cake @ icyfrantz.net