If you used the term “thin place” in conversation, most people wouldn’t understand what you meant without reading a specific article posted in the March 9, 2012 edition of the New York Times: Eric Weiner’s “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer.” I connected deeply with this article and tacked it to the corkboard above my desk, where I put things that have helped me find deeper meaning in life and develop a better understanding of myself. To summarize Weiner, thin places are where we feel the lightest: the weight of existence is lifted off and we breathe deeply, feel time freely, and experience the moment purely. These thin places cannot be sought out, and are best happened upon. People who remain open are drawn to thin places, and I – like Weiner – yearn for them. His words mirror my own thoughts when he writes, “I’m drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again.” Places like this are so essentially important to me as an individual who hasn’t fundamentally found herself yet, because each time I discover a thin place I discover a true part of myself. My most vivid thin place experience was this past summer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
Exploring the museum’s exhibits with my boyfriend for the first half of the day was great, but my thin place experience began when we entered the Sky Theater to watch the short film “Cosmic Wonder.” Stepping into the huge dome of the Sky Theater is like being submerged underwater or entering a whispering gallery. The fabric-covered walls of the dome stifle sound and whisk words away as soon as they are spoken. Once everyone is seated, the doors close, and the room’s circle is complete. Like Weiner said in his article, what makes a place thin is not the absence of people, but people experiencing the place individually, together. The chairs are designed to be slightly reclined because theater’s technology projects onto the entire front half of the domed ceiling. As the movie started and we were transported millions of lightyears into space, my entire field of vision was illumined by images of the cosmos. My thoughts were silenced as my mind was enveloped in the beauty and wonder of what lies beyond our pale blue planet. During the movie, I did not think about anything. It was as if my entire being had been gently washed away from existence and all that was real suddenly wasn’t. All I could hear was the powerful voice of the narrator and all I could see was the infinite and unimaginable.
The movie was only 25 minutes, but I felt as if I had lived 100 lifetimes. For a long time after we left the theater, I did not want to speak, I did not want to be touched. I felt embodied by this thin place experience and I wanted to carry it around with me until it faded on its own. I quietly wandered around the planetarium and my boyfriend followed me, completely understanding of my desire for quiet reverence. As Weiner writes, “Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us – or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.” My thin place experience did not enlighten me to my destined career path, nor did it inspire in me a religious transformation. What my thin place did was strip me of my superficial self and allowed me to find a piece of fundamental self-truth: I am a genuinely curious being searching for moments of clarity and inspiration. For a time, I was completely at peace with my authentic self, and I eagerly look forward to the next time I happen upon a thin place.