Thin Places – The Infinite Whatever

I’ve long been intrigued by thin places. In Celtic tradition, thin places are locations where the energy between this world and the eternal thins. In these places, we become more aware of our connection to something larger than ourselves. Whether we experience them as spiritual places or not, these thin places allow us to connect with the energy of the universe.

Five months before Covid changed our lives, I traveled to England with my partner and my parents. About half way through our trip, we visited Stonehenge. The day we were there was drizzly and a little raw. There’s a bus you can take from the visitor center to the site, but we decided to walk through the fields, approaching it as the ancient people did. There were cows grazing nearby.  When the stones came into view, it was spectacular. As we drew nearer, it felt magical. The other tourists milling about and taking pictures fell away. It was almost as if I could hear the stones ~ themselves ~ whispering.

It’s hard to describe a thin place experience. You have probably experienced something similar yourselves – if not at Stonehenge then somewhere else. For a moment, I felt I was a part of everything – the earth, the people who came before, the people who will come after, the universe. For me, Stonehenge was a thin place.

I like how Eric Weiner writes about thin places in his New York Times article. “They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.”

Thin places don’t have to be defined. They simply are. They can’t be contrived or engineered. They’re unique and individual. I’ve encountered thin places while mountain climbing in Maine, during justice marches, at a rock concert, and while on silent retreat. I recently found myself in a thin place while holding my beloved senior dog while he died. As I watched him transition from life to death, I suddenly had the realization that we would never be truly apart because we are all part of the same everything – the Infinite Whatever.

I think another characteristic of thin places is that they are momentary, fleeting. At Stonehenge, the whispers lasted just for a second to two, before I was tossed back to the reality of the shuffling sneakers and crying children of the tourists around us. The comfort I experienced at the moment of my dog’s death gave way to deep grief in the hours and days that followed. Still, I remember those thin places, they stay with me and I can recall them when I feel bereft or disconnected.

As a world still gripped by Covid, we are grappling to re-calibrate, find our center, and rediscover what it means to be human in the midst of unpredictability. These past 18 months, we’ve been reacting and responding to what is going on outside of us. I think thin places can play a role in reconnecting us with those deepest, innner parts of ourselves.

When I am conscious of the thin places in my life, I feel like I am living more authentically, that I am being more myself. Some call this a connection with God, the universe, or divine energy. Others experience it as alignment with our true nature or creation or a connection with the spark within. I feel like a piece of myself connects with all that has been, all that is, and all that will be.

Maybe you’re aren’t sure if you have had a thin place experience. Maybe the description of thin places doesn’t resonate with you. That’s okay! If you want to explore it, you could think about where you have felt most at peace. Some find thin places in solitary locations while others find thin places in community. No two people – or thin places – are exactly the same.

And if you have had a thin place experience, I wonder…. Where have you glimpsed the eternal, that something bigger than yourself? How do you stay open to your thin places in a world that demands so much attention? Where do you feel most yourself? During your times of disconnection, are there thin places – either memories or actual places – where you can draw strength?

Thin place experiences, I believe, help us to stretch our imagination and expand our sense of possibility. For me, when I find myself in a thin place, the world at once seems extraordinarily intimate and unthinkably vast.