Painting of Zhangjiajie. Artist unknown.

Finding the Right Environment to Thrive.

The effect of the world around us on our thoughts, mental health, and inspirations.

It’s day 31 of my writing challenge and I feel dazed.

It may have to do with writing for 30 days straight and/or the karaoke music blaring downstairs.

My friend and I have taken to calling Ngiring Ngewedang the “Castle in the Sky” due to the gorgeous views and how nice it is but today the castle is playing host to a birthday party.

I feel invaded.

The music is so loud I’m sitting in a daze but this is the only place with internet.

Clearly blaring karaoke isn’t the best for writing but I have noticed bouncing around Bali that there are a lot of factors that play into article inspiration and thought processes, not to mention my mental health.

The “energy” of a place. (Our intuitive experience.)

Beyond noise pollution, which has been shown to have deleterious effects on mental and physical health, every place offers a unique blend of components.

In spiritual circles, we use any number of terms to refer to this, from the chi or energy of a place to its feng shui, to its elemental or numinous nature.

I have a friend who will walk through a place and suddenly stop to say “this is a yin place,” and when you stop and let yourself feel the place it’s always calmer, cooler, quieter, and the mind itself goes calm, cool, and quiet.

The ancient world presents us with all sorts of sorting systems to define these experiences.

Ancient China broke things down into yin/yang dry/wet, cold/hot and eventually water, tree, fire, earth, metal. Aristotle had earth, air, fire, water, aether, India has fire, air, earth, water, and akash or space/void. India also has the system of gunas: sattva, tamas, rajas.

All of these are ways to summarize experienced sensations (cold/hot) or observations (tamas: heavy/slow, rajas quick/rapid) and from them create greater narratives about how the world is composed.

Quantifiable variables.

Gili Air was hot and wet and it certainly created an atmosphere that felt oceanic, drifting, like a coconut lost to the tide. My mind kept getting set adrift.

Here in Munduk, it is cooler, the mountain makes it feel more stable, heavier, earthier and I myself feel more stable, more collected.

I don’t believe the intuitive experience of a place need be seen as mystical, a magic sort of energy that infuses a location. (Though I certainly leave room for that.)

Rather, our experience is the culmination of a multitude of tiny sensations, variations in light, heat, humidity, noise, color, scent, texture; harmonious or discordant pairings of sensual experiences.

When these are all taken in by the brain moment by moment they are experienced as an intuitive sensation, the feeling of a place, its energy.

To this, we can add a more subtle Aether affected by memory, expectation, meaning, our perception of beauty, the subtler aspects of our conscious experience as well as concepts of sacredness.

In ancient traditions, each of these compositions were believed to affect different experiences and consequences, holding various healing and harmful properties.

Learning where we thrive.

In the ancient systems of health (Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Hippocrates’ Greek medicine) the many components of our experiences are used to balance the body and mind and put it into healthy relationship with the world around.

Chinese Medicine is an attempt to balance the flow of Qi through the body to support the elemental functioning of the organs.

Ayurveda is working to balance the doshas.

All of these ancient traditions take into account the individual’s relationship to their environment.

Changes in season, in weather, in nutrition, noise, activity each affect the components of the tradition’s categorical system whether that be the doshas of Ayurveda or the organs and elements of Chinese medicine.

For example, spring in Chinese medicine is characterized by Tree or Wood energy and affects the physical and mental experience of the individual.

Chinese medicine describes this through the terms of the elements and organs but we can also see it as a change in light, temperature, activity after the cold of winter, and a host of other environmental factors that affect our physical and mental experience during spring.

Since people have different “elemental” dispositions (biology, mindset, conditioning) they will be affected by these changes in seasons (light, activity, temperature) differently, creating for people certain environments that benefit them more than others.

This is where we can ask ourselves, “where do we thrive?”

Personally, I am finding I really like the mountains, forests, and a lot of growth and nature.

I feel more industrious in environments that have a bit more activity going on rather than those which are really quiet or still. Too much activity or noise though overwhelms me.

I seem to be more sensitive to smell than sound. A loud car driving by doesn’t affect me much. A car billowing exhaust makes me want to rage and die.

I also really thrive in a spiritually cultivated environment. It feels different to stay at a homestay with a temple versus one without and I found myself missing the incense and ceremony of Bali when I was on Gili Air.

What about you?

What sorts of environments help you thrive?

Where are you most comfortable? Most effective? Most relaxed or spiritually fulfilled?

If you’re coming up with a blank or “that one place I could never live at” try keeping a journal or note on your phone to explore this more.

Ask yourself when you’re in a different environment “how do I feel? How clear are my thoughts? What are my motivations? My drives here?”

Test out different activities in different environments and see what happens. Then go over your notes and try to put your revelations to use. Use different environments to balance yourself out and empower your experiences.

Love and share.

I’m starting something new. Writing every day as I put my random thoughts on binary paper.

If you’d like to join me on this journey you can sign up for my email list here.



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Joshua Burkhart

Joshua Burkhart

Transformation coach specializing in mental health, spirituality & relationships — the way we connect to self, society & cosmos.