Monday, September 22, 2008

Immersion, Topophilia, and Second Life

I've been trying different things at Connected Health Island as I duly do the daily relaxation exercises.  I am keen to trigger the carry over effect I read about, when the calm and centeredness of the meditation carries over to everyday life when you're not meditating.

But I find it hard to focus and concentrate on the meditations in SL.  I guess I am a closed-eye meditator.  I like imagining vivid images in my mind's eye, perhaps informed by the SL scene, but not replaced by it.  I don't think I would have come up with the underwater imagery that is possible in SL, though, discovered by accident when I was bumbling around and fell into a shallow part of the brook, and found it a pleasant place to stand.  I ventured into a deeper part, discovered some nice fish, hung around for while while I listened to the relaxation mp3.   

Standing in the brook reminded me of one of my strongest memories of a learning experience, and how I started a conference paper on "Topophilia and the Garden Ethic: Experience and the Pedagogy of Place" at one of the nicest conferences in which I've participated, Representing Place, held at Northern Arizona University in 1998.  When I was in 6th grade, we went for a week to a camp in the woods for some kind of ecology program.  I think it was the first time I was away from home without my family.  There was a list of things we had to bring, and when I got to rubber boots, I remember thinking, what could we need those for?  But then I found myself standing on rocks in a river, with cold water rushing all around my feet, kept dry but not warm by the boots, a distinct physical sensation I can recall to this day.  The experience of that moment, of understanding  that a river is movement, of being in the river yet separate from it, of feeling something that I could not have imagined, is something beyond words, images, or sounds, beyond someone else's expression, no matter how eloquent, of that place.  To love place, to want to take care of any place like we nurture a garden, means having direct experience of some place, any one place, and then that experience can offer a metaphor for other places and understanding other people's experiences of other places.  The paper discussed a honors course I taught on "The Place of the Wilderness," in which I took students to a field campus, where they walked in the woods as they talked through Thoreau's essay "Walking" with a partner, and a deer came impossibly close to us as we sat discussing Michael Pollan, and on another clear Illinois fall afternoon, a woodpecker seemed eager to join in the commotion.  We stayed over one night at the field campus and took a night hike, so now we know what dark is.  

Can you have those kinds of experiences in a virtual world?   Maybe not unless you've had some real life experiences, or analogous ones, to trigger the mirror neurons.  How much of an experience is necessary?  Or how much of an imagination?

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