Reflections on Sanctuary

Travel brings the exciting, unexpected, and exhilarating. Cathedrals, statues, architecture. 

Travel is also exhausting. It’s difficult to travel for very long without being overwhelmed and longing for sanctuary. On many days some of those big buildings suffice. You can be swallowed up inside one. 

All around the globe, humans keep amping up the decibels, the pace, and the intensity. It’s as if all the meditation and yoga and prayer and medication can’t keep the incessant intrusions at bay. There it is, right in our faces, the ugly behaviors we humans are capable of displaying; sensitivities ignored, some harmed for personal gain by others, thoughts and ideas and music blasted into the faces and minds of everyone within reach. 

We can be ugly. 

Every. One. Of. Us. 

Let’s face it, we could all use sanctuary from time to time. Sanctuary that might restore enough of us to the point of doing less violence to one another, at the very least restore us to the point of feeling peace. If we feel peace, we might do less violence and that alone might open the possibility for even greater sanctuary for others. Maybe we could heal the world if enough people had sanctuary. 

Given the rate we humans are moving and the directions our choices are taking us, it’s my opinion we now have to build the sanctuary we seek within ourselves. 

We’ll need to build that sanctuary for ourselves.

For some sanctuary might be found within times of prayer or by canceling the day’s appointments and staring at the wall. For others sanctuary requires silence, a difficult commodity in this modern time. 

Imagine Nelson Mandela, who was able to emerge from decades of imprisonment with an intact spirit and who went on to lead his country again. I believe that was possible because he found sanctuary and the sanctuary he found was deep within himself. When he couldn’t control the amount of light or heat or his personal comfort, he relied on his internal sanctuary. When he was physically deprived or tormented, he went into that sanctuary within himself that protected him from the spirit-breaking isolation and emotional torture that comes from long-term imprisonment. 

What does sanctuary look like for the average person? Where is it? Is it out there and only accessed under certain conditions? Is it a game one plays with imagination? Is it mentally writing stories or visualizing video images that scroll through thoughts? Is it a painstaking inventory of physical and kinesthetic sensations? Is it a fast-paced process? Where does that sense of restoration and preservation enter? From the first moment, do the thoughts turn to the sanctuary-moment or is it later after many minutes or hours have gone by? In other words, how quickly does the sanctuary effect lift you and preserve you, helping you ready for the next thing in your life? 

This sanctuary-building is a life-long practice. It’s a practice we come to after we let go of ego and expectation and assumption that the solution is outside ourselves. It comes when we learn to take part in one thing while doing our sanctuary-building in the background. 

Sometimes it’s easy to turn to our community for sanctuary. We might expect we’ll find the sanctuary we seek within a community. Or, we might expect we have to shut out the world to access what keeps us strong and feeds our spirit.   

But, to me sanctuary is not a place. It isn’t even a thing. Sanctuary is more like a mental salve I spread all over myself at any moment to calm the sting, ease the pressure, and cool the pain. 

Go. Find. Shore up your sanctuary. Claim what is yours. Keep it close. Keep it foremost. Use liberally and re-apply as needed. In fact, use your sanctuary as you enter your next job interview, ride on noisy public transportation, or try to get your work done when there are so many interruptions. 

That sanctuary is right there, inside yourself. Yours for the claiming.