Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone but yourself – Buddha
I’ve always envied the rich with large, cavernous homes because they can, if they so choose, devote a whole room to pampering and solitude. Being a renter my whole life means unless I’m using my bedroom, I’m challenged to find an empty corner in my home dedicated as a contemplative space. The bedroom as sanctuary works, of course – it should act as a retreat. But if you share it with someone else, that space is not entirely your own.
As Buddha said, the only true sanctuary is within you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to carve out a special niche in your environment that belongs only to you. It’s how home offices and man caves are created, with the intention of function and purpose. You work hard, you deserve it.
Years ago I started a new job as a business development consultant. The office manager there was in the middle of a transition – she was trying to have a baby and her husband wasn’t working. She wanted the baby more than she wanted her husband to get a job and they were preparing at some point to move back in with her parents. I asked her if she had a special place to meditate in her home and she said she didn’t. So I suggested that she find a shelf or table where she could set up an altar where she could pray for her request. She liked the idea and immediately went home, found candles, a cross and a statue of Jesus and created a prayer corner. The next day she thanked me profusely. A year or so later her prayer came true and now she is the mother of a beautiful son.
The Altar of Experience
The word ‘altar’ reminds me of my experiences as a child watching Catholic priests and young altar boys lighting tall, white candlesticks in heavy, golden holders and then kneeling before them, making the sign of the holy trinity across the their robed chests. These days I think of an altar as spiritual protection, a way in which to honor and appreciate what is important to remember in my life. A place I can go to in order to remind myself what is a priority, what is meaningful. My sacred space.
When I moved into a new place three years ago, my intention was to work with the spiritual energy of my home. I chose the windowsill beneath my bedroom window to create my simple altar. The ledge provides the perfect space next to my bed: Beneath the window on the floor is a cushion in case I get an urge to pray or meditate. On the altar itself I have a few memories, sometimes I’ll add a vase with fresh flowers, a spiritual symbol or a picture of someone or something I am praying for. Currently there is a book with wise quotes called A Bag of Jewels, written in calligraphy and gifted to me by a dear friend. It honors the power of friendship and the quotes within speak to the fact that none of us is alone, we all go through the same stuff. The next item is an embroidered bag I bought in Singapore, reminding me of my travels there. The next is a velvet cloth bag of violet and turquoise, filled with coins from various countries. It’s represents the ability I have to find the funds to continue my journey. A pretty empty purple box sits next to the bag, awaiting a purpose.
Finally, there is another box, multicolored with flowers. It is this box that is the important addition because it is filled with intentions. I’ve scribbled them on post-it notes and put them in the box. It’s called my God Box; its primary purpose is to allow me to release my troubles to the Universe. If there is an ongoing issue in my life, I write it down and fold the note and release it. Weeks or months later, I check the box to see what has been resolved and remove the note. It’s a way of ‘letting go and letting God’ in motion.
Another item in my sacred space (on the cushion because it won’t fit on the windowsill) is my vision book, a binder containing positive images I’ve cut out or printed that help me align my desires with how I want my life to work. When I was younger and much more ambitious, my vision book was filled with all the things I wanted to accomplish. Now it reflects more of the kind of human being I want to be.
I know people who feel selfish when they lock their bedroom door so they can have a few minutes of alone time. And yet when they tell me how resentful they feel when people don’t respect their space, I want to ask, how much better would you be able to care for them if you took 30 minutes out to care for you? Whatever form that care takes, be it silence, meditation, prayer or just playing music, reading – imagine how much better of a human being you could be if you silence your phone and stop checking your messages, how much better you could engage with the world around you.
I’ve grown increasingly introverted over the years, after years of being what others might say is a gadfly. The last decade or so, in particular, has brought many challenges and struggles so I’ve had to try to learn healthy coping skills, to the point of avoiding certain people. It is a sacrifice, but through the creation of silence, in a space where only I belong, I am learning more about survival and self-care.
I have a lifelong intention to pretty up my space. I’m not a natural decorator and have been accused of living my life like a college student, with minimal furniture and not much design sense. Yet, I feel good here. And if my home is a reflection of who I am, then I would say I am someone who does not need much at the moment but if I find myself wishing for more structure in terms of furniture or color in my decor, then I trust that my self-care mechanism will kick in and I will go out and find it. But for now, I take comfort in that I have what I need and that my environment provides a truly respite from the world and a sacred space to soothe the soul.