All of us need to have somewhere to turn to in times of stress, uncertainty, and sadness. When we think of communal spaces that many might associate with the feeling of sanctuary, churches, monasteries, ashrams, and temples may come to mind. These physical spaces can offer feelings of belonging, understanding, safety, and peace. This sense of refuge can arise from being in a like-minded community, from familiar symbolism and rituals, particulars about the physical atmosphere, and from a sense of closeness to divine energy or entity. Whether or not we frequent places like these, we all can create sacred spaces for ourselves, both physical and nonphysical.
Some of us may be able to think of physical spaces in our lives where we feel safe, comfortable, and calm; it may be a particular person’s home, a space in our own home that we have to ourselves, or even a yoga studio, nearby park, or coffee shop we frequent.
If we move from place to place a lot, some of us may find that there is no physical space that offers that sense of peace and refuge. Instead, we can seek out certain people, mentors, and even animals that smooth our edges away.
It can also be the case that we don’t feel like we have anywhere or anyone to turn to, or feel alone even among our friends and family. In cases like these, we may find relief interacting through the internet on support forums, or through solitary activities like walking, reading, listening to music, et cetera.
There is no one right or wrong here, as many interacting facets within each person determine what we consider sacred, calming, and safe. It is worthwhile identifying the people, places, and situations we feel at ease with, as we can then meditate on the core qualities they share and the reactions they produce in us.
Helpful Guiding Questions
As a self-reflecting exercise for finding your own sense of sanctuary, I recommend asking yourself the following questions:
1. Where do I want to go when I feel overwhelmed or upset?
2. Do I want to go to a physical place, and it is inside or outside?
3. Are there certain people I gravitate to and feel safe opening up to?
4. Do I prefer to be alone or to engage in a particular activity to find relief and inner connection?
When we can answer these questions, we may discover that there are a variety of places and people we count on to be our sanctuaries. The next time you visit these places and talk to these people, notice how you feel, physically and emotionally. Notice the sense of calm and comfort in your body, your breathing, as well as your overall mood; this is important because this is what a sanctuary can feel like in your body. If you prefer to be in nature or to be alone, notice the same things within yourself so that your mind can learn and observe what relaxation feels like to you.
Some Final Thoughts
It is wonderful to have people and places outside of us that make us feel at home, but we may not always be around those places or people, say if we are traveling or if they are not available. The most sacred space you can cultivate is inside yourself, and that’s a space that never changes, moves, or leaves. Some of us do not feel safe alone or inside ourselves, and that’s okay. To build up that feeling of ease and inner safety, we have to be present and honest with our feelings, like we would be for a friend. Emotions, just like physical sensations, can change and fluctuate, but our inner awareness always stays the same – calm and unblemished. I would recommend working with mindfulness and self-love meditations in the coming months to start building and tending that inner sanctuary. And, as we become more able to calm and console ourselves in times of disturbance, we will be better able to act as a sanctuary for others in our lives.
“Deep within us all, there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a divine center, a speaking voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself.” - Thomas Raymond Kelly