I went back to Chaco Canyon with my now-wife this past weekend.
What was going to be a week-long workcation anniversary trip to New Mexico for our fifth wedding anniversary became an opportunity to also spend time with my father-in-law.
This would be his third trip to Chaco and our second.
The landscapes were just as majestic, and the multi-story stone structures were just as impressive as the first time I was there seven years ago.
But so much had changed for me.
I got married.
I spent time in the hospital for major depression.
I changed jobs multiple times and decided to fully follow my calling to pursue mental health education as a social worker–and now as an online mental health advocate.
I moved to Viginia to pursue my mental health education but felt called back to the mountains of Montana.
And then I felt drawn back to Chaco Canyon.
In Chaco, the questions I asked myself while looking at improbably defiant multi-story structures emerging from ancient earth, they too had changed.
But for me, in a special place, it all came back to meaning.
What did this location mean for the people who braved 100+ degree heat during the summer and below-zero conditions during the winter?
Why toil over something so difficult in such a foreboding place?
The answers I received always came back to place.
My father-in-law told more stories that hinted at the same thing.
A raven that followed him that felt like his deceased wife guiding him through the canyon.
A rabbit that hopped along his side during a hike that only left him when he had arrived at one of the most sacred locations of Chaco Canyon, a huge, circular enclosure in the earth called a kiva.
It all seemed to mean something, but we couldn’t be entirely sure.
And I think that’s at the heart of it.
The locations we go to in life change us, and they change us as we change ourselves.
Chaco Canyon looks much the same way it did when the Chacoan people lived there a thousand years ago.
There are still buildings.
There are still petroglyphs of red handprints and animals the people put on the canyon walls.
But the people who go there add the final piece of meaning.
This past weekend, the three of us created a new, shared meaning in that spiritual place that means so much to us.
This is My Place-Based Task For You
Go to a place you haven’t visited in a while.
See how it’s different, but more importantly, see how it’s the same.
And then see how you have changed.
The perspective and life experiences you bring to a place change that place for you.
Wherever you go, your mental health will be a combination of your mindset and the historical mindset of the places you’re in.
So much of building strong mental health is about finding meaning, something that is often forgotten in our fast-paced world.
The people of Chaco built something that lasted for four hundred years.
They built it in a place that was of immense importance, and each successive generation added to the structures, imbuing the place with their own, changed meanings.
How can you do the same in your life?
I encourage you to choose any place that is important to you–and make a commitment to go there again.
Bring what you have right now, reflect while you’re there, and then leave with a new understanding of the world.