Querencia is an abstract idea in the Spanish language that stems from the Spanish verb “querer,” meaning “to want or desire.” Modern translations explain querencia as the place where one’s strength of character is drawn, where one feels secure, the place where you are your most authentic self.
Ascribed to bullfighting, querencia is the place in the ring the wounded bull will instinctively gravitate toward to renew his strength, where he feels most solid and powerful.
Ernest Hemingway’s book, Death in the Afternoon, explains querencia like this:
“A querencia is a place the bull naturally wants to go to in the ring, a preferred locality... It is a place which develops in the course of the fight where the bull makes his home. It does not usually show at once, but develops in his brain as the fight goes on. In this place he feels that he has his back against the wall and in his querencia he is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill.”
— Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
The matador attunes himself to the bull’s movements and tries to keep him away from this place because it decreases the bull’s vulnerability. The matador retains the advantage as long as the bull is disoriented. It is thought that if the same bull were to fight more than once in the same ring, he would kill the matador every time; once the bull learns the game and stands in his power, he cannot be conquered.
Humans have querencia, too. Our querencia can be a physical location, a ritual, a behaviour, or something else that reconnects us with our centre and helps us feel most secure and renewed. The answers are inside us, should we choose to listen.
Some people can easily identify what helps them feel grounded: it might be a pull toward fresh mountain air or watching the ocean waves crash, or another connection with nature – walking in a park or breathing in the aroma of flowers. Some feel peaceful in a certain location inside their home, wearing clothes of a particular style, smelling freshly brewed coffee, listening to specific music, or engaging in a favourite activity or sport.
Alone In a Crowd
I feel in my querencia in bustling cities. I thrive on the commotion, the competing smells of fast food, the graffiti, and the drone of honking cars and sirens. The chaos of the city calms me, and I feel sharp, focused, and grounded. I run alone in busy public spaces, like city parks and heavily trafficked bicycle and pedestrian routes. “Alone in a crowd” is my happy place, and being in that space makes me feel strong and powerful, with a renewed spirit and positive emotional energy.
An intense environment like that may not appeal to you at all. Good. Cross that off your list for now. Sometimes the most effective way to understand your querencia is to go through a process of elimination. Think about different activities and environments and ask yourself if they invite you or not.
Develop Self-Awareness of Your Stressors
There are times where I cannot be in my element, and I notice the difference. I can easily feel agitated, overwhelmed, and vulnerable to stressors. Like the matador, those irritants can push me around, affect my behaviour, and hold me at a disadvantage. At these times, I have to recognise it and tap into one of my other substitute querencias that are more accessible at that moment.
It’s important to have a few options of places you can go, rituals you can practice, or activities you can engage in that give you that sense of strength and safety.
Humans tend to overthink and overcommit to external things and therefore ignore or minimise their instincts and needs. This is where we need to engage the skills of self-awareness to help us understand and manage the chatter around us and mindfully explore ourselves further.
Search For Your Querencia
You’ll identify it. It might take a bit of persistence for the answers to reveal themselves, but they are there, inside of you. Keep asking yourself and visualising, "Where do you come from? Where do you feel most alive? What happens to you in that place? What feelings do you experience there? Are you alone or with someone else? What are you doing?"
Once you have some clear ideas, surround yourself with those reminders. Find photographs or tangible objects of you in that location, or with those people, or doing that activity. Whatever it is, treat it like your charger. Keep it close, and when your batteries run low, plug into that source of strength to renew and refill your energy.