My ever-expanding to-do list, juggling multiple jobs, and the relentless barrage of (often bad) news from around the world, I'm exhausted. Most people I know are exhausted as well. It's hard to work toward healing and rebuilding life's broken places from a place of exhaustion.
In our fast-paced, busy, stressful world, having a place of sanctuary where we can lay our burdens down for a moment, stop all of the busyness, and come to rest is vital for our ongoing health—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
It is only in these moments of sanctuary that we can find the holy stillness that allows us to reconnect with our inner selves and our inner Source to refuel us to head back out into a world that needs what we have to give.
Yet sanctuary is something I seldom hear talked about or valued. This means that places of sanctuary are not easily found in our culture; they are places we must often create for ourselves instead.
What is sanctuary?
Sanctuary initially referred to sacred spaces, but it has come to also mean a place of safety and refuge. When I talk about sanctuary, I am thinking of both of these meanings simultaneously.
Sacred spaces are places that help us reconnect with that which is larger than us. They remind us of the mystery and the wonder of the More (however we understand it) that nourishes us and pulls us out of our smallest selves to stretch toward our greater potential.
Safe places allow us to set our burdens down and rest without the constant pressure to protect ourselves, to do more, or to push ourselves to our limits. We have the space to feel, to contemplate, to dream, to rest in the moments of refuge from the world's noise.
Some people might find this space in a religious place of worship. Others might find it in nature. Maybe it's your favorite yoga studio or art museum. Or maybe it's found in the office of a therapist or other professional who offers this kind of safe space.
What places in your life offer you this kind of combination of sacred space and safe space? How often do you spend time in those places?
Creating your own sanctuary
If you are not able to name many (or any) spaces in your life that give you this kind of sanctuary, it may be time to create your own space of sanctuary.
This doesn't have to be elaborate. It's just a space that feels sacred and safe to you and that you can access when you need it.
I am such a strong introvert that my entire home is my sanctuary to some degree, and I've decorated it in ways that emphasize things that to me bring in the warmth of the sacred and of safety.
However my home is also where I run my business, so it can be challenging to completely escape even here. Therefore, I have a loft space that is very intentionally my sanctuary. I don't work in that space.
It is space dedicated to holding things that are sacred to me. It is where I do my yoga and meditation practices. It is where I go to read, to contemplate, to come to stillness, to tune into my intuition. Much of the seating in this space is on the floor.
It is a space filled with light and views of nature, and I treat this space as sacred by not wearing shoes in this space and not bringing technology into this space (unless needed for a given purpose). It is one place I escape from the tyranny of my computer and cell phone notifications.
What creates a sense of sanctuary for you? Would you feel that most in your garden? Or perhaps an altar space set up in a corner of the bedroom? Or maybe (especially for a busy mom) that place is the bathtub?
What items (or sounds or smells) might enhance the feeling of sanctuary in that space? What practices or rituals (like my removing my shoes) might help you move into sacred space when you enter there?
Finding sanctuary within
While my sanctuary space in my loft is still the most powerful place where I experience this sense of the sacred and of safety, my intentional and habitual use of this space has given me the ability to find that same sense of sanctuary within when I cannot be there physically.
Now that I know what sanctuary feels like, my mind and my body know what it is like to come to rest in a space of sanctuary, and I can use that memory and my breath to find that same sanctuary within myself when I am in other places.
Depending on the circumstances, I am not always able to access this inner sanctuary as deeply or as easily as I can when I have the physical surrounding of my sanctuary loft space to support me, but I still have greater access to that feeling within than I ever had without having practiced in a real space.
The more I practice with spending time settling into and experiencing my sanctuary space, the easier it gets to connect to that same space wherever I am and whatever I am doing.
How do you access a sense of sanctuary within yourself?
Becoming sanctuary for others
Finding sanctuary for myself is a wonderful, reassuring, comforting thing that offers me so much space for growth and reflection and deepening in my own life.
But the biggest gift of cultivating sanctuary for myself is that it expands my capacity to become a person of sanctuary for others. When I am able to settle into my own inner space of sanctuary, I am able to bring that spirit to my interactions with others that need a safe and sacred space to set down the burdens they are carrying.
From my own space of sanctuary, I am able to listen deeply without being triggered (which makes me safer since I'm not reactive), I am able to see the Divine in others (even when I don't see eye to eye with them), and I can offer kindness, encouragement, and compassion from a deeper place.
I can be a calm, safe space in the midst of someone else's storm because I have spent the time to connect to my own sense of sanctuary. And that is the greatest gift of my own practice and the greatest gift I know how to give.
How have you experienced sanctuary in someone else? How are you a sanctuary for those in your life? How might you move from creating sanctuary spaces for yourself to finding that sanctuary space within to becoming sanctuary for those around you?
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