They say it’s Cynefin!


As I travel around Cymru/Wales for the second extended stay (five weeks in the winter, six weeks over the summer), people often ask me why I have chosen to return to this specific place. Initially I fumbled over how to articulate and explain my affection for, connection with, and sense of belonging to this beautiful country, a place I had barely thought about until just a few years back. How does one describe an experience of arriving in a foreign country to be immediately met with a sensation of having come home? How does one describe an experience wherein one’s internal busy-ness, preoccupations and anxious habits find that still, quiet center to guide and sustain? How does one share a heart at rest, a mind at peace, and a soul sustained? Sure, some might say, it has everything to do with the slow pace of sabbatical life, but I know it is beyond the obvious.

Well, I have learned the Welsh have a word for this sense of coming home, sense of belonging and connection to place. They call it cynefin.*

…’cynefin’ would convey the sense that we all have multiple pasts of which we can only be partly aware: cultural, religious, geographic, tribal etc. The word is sometimes used to describe an environment where a person feels they belong[2][3] or knowledge and sense of place that is passed down the generations.[4] It can also refer to fleeting moments in time: “a place or the time when we instinctively belong or feel most connected. In those moments what lies beneath mundane existence is unveiled and the joy of being alive can overwhelm us.”[5]

I am told the farmers use this word to describe how a sheep knows its patch on the mountainside. The mountains are vast and the sheep could certainly wander far afield but stay close to home. Sitting here, at the edge of Mynydd Du (Black Mountain), communing with grazing sheep, I have come to appreciate their sense of belonging to a place, their own a little patch in a vast world of possibilities. If only we humans could settle in and find peace in belonging to a little patch in a vast universe.

So, as the Welsh would say, there we have it then, it is cynefin; and yes, at times my heart is humbly overwhelmed with gratitude and joy for this time of being in a place that holds me in one big Cymru cwtch (Welsh embrace/hug).