Our perceptions of the world around us

Gardens are inherently soothing spaces

Guests to my home, the one hubby and I have carefully decorated together, invariably make one of two comments: a) they find it very relaxing, and b) it reminds them of Indiana Jones’ house in the famous movies. Both of those reactions are exactly what we were going for.

When we bought our house early in our marriage, neither of us had a really strong sense of style. The house is a pretty standard 1960s raised bungalow; what we liked about it was all the large windows and flowing spaces that give it a feeling of airiness. But how to put our mark on it? After months of waffling, I decided to cut photos of rooms that I liked out of decorating magazines, using only my gut response without analysis. When I’d assembled enough of them, I could see that they all had one thing in common: they were all decorated in earthy tones with natural textures.

There were two other influences after that. The first was a visit to the home of friends of a friend. It came about when hubby and I were deciding where to travel to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. My long-standing dream was to visit Egypt, which became possible that year while the political situation there was relatively quiet. Hubby was kind of on-board, but still had some reservations, so a good friend of ours suggested we go and talk to good friends of his, who’d not only been to Egypt but had travelled to many countries and could give us a broad perspective.

Their house was wonderful, full of artifacts from their travels. Walking inside it immediately made one want to pack bags and set off on an adventure; we loved it so much that we decided to bring the same feeling to our own home. After that visit, we did book a tour of Egypt and had a sensational time.

But it was Indy’s house in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that put the final touches on the feel of our home. We buy a piece of artwork in every place that we visit – a brass hookah in a market in Cairo, a heavy bell from a small antique shop in Bangkok, a carved mask in Bali, a hand-woven basket in Botswana – and although these pieces don’t have the archeological weight of Indy’s collection, when visitors to our home make those comments, we feel we’ve achieved what we set out to.

I bring this up because just this morning I read an article about how we use more than just five senses when we react to different environments. In 5 senses? In fact, architects say there are 7 ways we perceive our environments, we learn that architects design buildings that appeal to more than just sight, sound, smell, taste and feel. They also take into account our unconscious response to a place’s environment – its setting (wide open, as in a desert landscape, or tucked away inside, say, a forest) and ambience. Small spaces with lower ceilings tend to feel cozy, for example, while cavernous spaces can be overwhelming.

On a personal level, I find very noisy, busy spaces really tiring. Here’s an example from several years ago that struck me on the spot. Hubby and I were Christmas shopping at our large local mall, which was full of people bumping into each and a lot of general hubbub. We stuck it out to get the last of our gifts, but on the way home we decided to stop at a Harvey’s joint and pick up some hamburgers. There was hardly anyone in there (probably all at the mall!), so it was nice and quiet, and the interior was quite cozy on a cold December night, with lower ceilings and a few holiday decorations, and I noticed how quickly I relaxed inside – so much so that it felt like the perfect soft wrap-up to a hard, crazy day.

I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ deliberately. Have you ever noticed how very soft clothing, like a cozy sweater or hoodie, can instantly relax you, as compared to something stiff or scratchy? My home is decorated with furniture and colours that make me feel the same as putting on a soft sweater. It seems to resonate with our guests as well.

On our travels, hubby and I have encountered all kinds of ‘spaces’, some that are awe-inspiring, some that are soothing, and everything in between.

View from our over-water bungalow at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort

We had the great fortune to be able to stay in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti several years ago. Air Tahiti Nui was offering a fantastic promotion, with flights to Tahiti and New Zealand as well as three free nights accommodation in Tahiti, and for a fairly low price I was able to upgrade us to a hotel with those bungalows you see in exotic photos. It was a remarkable experience. The sound of water gently lapping against the pylons supporting the bungalow was so soothing, we’d shut off the air and open the windows at night, and just drift off into the best sleeps we’ve ever had.

Classic pub decor in London, England

British pubs are the epitome of coziness, with lots of wood, homey decor, and often fireplaces that burn warmly during chilly weather. The food is always comforting, the beer and tea always hit the spot, and the ambience is always welcoming when you need to rest your weary feet after several hours of touring.

A small section of Victoria Falls from the Zambian side

For a sense of awe, it’s hard to beat Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, during high water season. Since we live within easy drive of Niagara Falls, to be honest I was wondering how much we’d be impressed with Vic Falls, but it’s famous and we went to see it. You can hear Mosi-oa-Tunya, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ in the local language, well before you can see it, but as we walked along the stone-paved pathway to the Falls and got our first sight of them, my jaw quite literally fell open, just like you read about. We were there in April, right after the rainy season, when every second millions of gallons of the Zambezi River cascade 330 feet down into a snaking chasm, sending a thick mist over 1,000 feet into the air and making so much noise you can’t hear each other speak.

The intricate spiritual spaces of Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico

Recently, we were awed by several places in New Mexico – the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, the striated rock walls in the wide open desert landscape, the massive and spiritual ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Park, and the enormous radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (you may have seen those in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster).

Being in nature tends to be very soothing and refreshing. There are numerous theories why, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, whenever I need to decompress I go for a walk in one of our local gardens or wooded areas, and I’m certainly not alone in doing that.

The architecture article even mentions our perceptions of time as being a factor. Driving across wide-open spaces tends to feel longer because our destination always seems to be so far away, or while flying across an ocean I’d add, while crossing denser spaces feels shorter, presumably because we have frames of reference that indicate movement. That may also be why rooms crowded with stuff feel smaller and less relaxing than rooms with less clutter.

It’s a fascinating perspective on how and why different people and cultures live, now and far back in time, the way that they do. I remember visiting a church in Austria that was so crusted with gold inside that it felt anti-spiritual, more about the excess of money thrown at it than the religious experience. Hubby and I drive past the mammoth, ostentatious homes built along the Niagara River that are clearly more about showing off than living comfortably. Next time you go out and about, notice your reactions; they may guide you in making your home a sanctuary from the chaos of our modern times.

All photos are by me and none may be used without my permission. E. Jurus

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ejurus

I started Lion Tail Magic as a way to help people recapture the adventurous spirit of their childhood -- exploration, curiosity about everything, and a belief that anything is possible if you want it and are willing to work towards it. I am a travel coach, professional speaker, writer and endlessly curious world traveller.

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