Creating a Sense of Sanctuary

gray concrete column inside vintage building
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There are no intrinsically sacred objects or experiences; they are made sacred by the special context that we give them.

-Louise Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge

Now more than ever we all need a sanctuary, a refuge from the world, a safe place to reflect and restore.  But the word sanctuary implies more than just a safe space or refuge.  It suggests reverence.  Holiness.  A sense of the sacred.  When we think about our homes in the context of creating sanctuary, we see the value of a living space that is simple, comfortable and cared for, a space that is ready to calm and nurture those who enter.  When we bring this sense of sanctuary to the seemingly mundane details of our daily lives, the ordinary has the potential to take on new meaning.  A morning cup of coffee in our favorite mug suddenly becomes a quiet, restorative ritual to start the day.  Our favorite corner of the sofa is transformed into a cozy writing nest to contemplate and dream.  Preparing dinner becomes a sensory meditation.  As we infuse our lives with a new awareness and appreciation for the everyday moments, we create sanctuary for ourselves and those we love by elevating the ordinary into the extraordinary.

The creation of sanctuary is an intentional practice, a willingness to make room for and find the sacred in the everyday.  Here are a few ideas for how to begin creating a sense of sanctuary in your own life:

  1. Make Space.  It can be difficult to cultivate the sacred in the everyday when we are buried in clutter or an over-scheduled calendar.  Clear out and simplify.  Make room in your home and your planner for a more intentional, well-lived life, for what nourishes and sustains you.
  2. Own a few small, well-chosen items that comfort and delight. A warm blanket, a favorite mug, a pen that flows effortlessly across the pages of your journal…sometimes it’s the small luxuries that become talismans of comfort, familiarity and meaning in our daily round.
  3. Slow down. Our lives move at the speed of light.  How many times have you thought to yourself on a Thursday evening, “I can’t believe it’s Friday already tomorrow!  Where did the week go!?”  We can live our whole lives this way if we aren’t paying attention, racing unconsciously through our days, just managing to get by.  This kind of living is simply skimming the surface. We are not immersing ourselves in the richness that is right in front of us.  As a way to counter this pace, practice doing things SLOWLY on purpose.  Take a stroll through the neighborhood.  Not a power walk, but an easy stroll.  Prepare dinner at a leisurely pace.  Linger over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  Luxuriate in a hot bath rather than take a quick shower.  Take up an activity in which success depends on time and patience, sourdough bread baking, for example.
  4. Unplug. We don’t cultivate the depth and richness of life by staring at a screen.  We need to be wholly available to participate with our environment and the people in it in order to notice and appreciate our everyday experience, at least for a little while each day.  Be gentle with yourself on this one…unplugging from a virtual world and plugging into our real one with all of its messiness and the possibility of boredom isn’t easy.  Start small if you need to by setting aside designated times where you don’t check your phone.  Having a no device time before, during and after dinner is a great place to start.
  5. Engage with your senses. We can come back to the wholeness of the moment, to the beauty of the here and now just by really seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting what is right in front of us.  This is why cooking is such an extraordinary activity for discovering the sacred in the seemingly mundane tasks of daily life.  The smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil, the bright orange flesh of the squash we are cutting into cubes, the softness of a plush Colorado peach in late summer.  Cooking offers so many wonderful opportunities to stop and take in a moment of sensory wonder and appreciation for the everyday gifts that are right in front of us.
  6. Don’t just eat dinner…dine. Find a bit of ceremony in your day where you can.  Light candles at the dinner table, lay down some placemats and cloth napkins and open a bottle of wine.  Not only will you invite a sense of the sacred to your meal, research suggests that gathering around the table at the end of the day is a source of social connection and an important aspect of our physical health.  In his book, How to Make Disease Disappear, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee talks about what life was like when humans existed in hunter-gatherer tribes.  After the sun went down, these early humans shifted their activities and conversation from the work of finding food to telling one another stories around the campfire.  “The researches call this ‘firelight talk.’  It’s a time of calmness, reflection and-perhaps most importantly-connection.”  We are wired to reflect, connect and find meaning in our existence by sharing our stories, the happenings of our day, with those around us.  “In the modern West, the table rather than the campfire is where our connection, or our ‘firelight talk,’ happens.”  Elevate mealtime to a higher plane by realizing that this is where we strengthen our sacred connection to one other….especiallyon an ordinary Wednesday night over meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
  7. Bookend Your Day with Rituals for Reflection. For me this means meditation and journaling.  But it could just be a simple quiet moment with your cup of coffee in the morning before your day begins.  Taking even a few moments before the day gets away from you to quietly center yourself is invaluable.  You will enter the morning in a more intentional, peaceful frame of mind.  In Circle of Stones, author Judith Duerk tells the story of a woman who lights a candle when she first wakes up for a brief ritual of quiet presence:

    “as long as I take time every morning to light a candle to my life, it remains my life.  But if I hurry into work without that small moment of quiet, then I’ve already lost myself, and the day.  The task, for me, is to care, daily, for myself and my life….to love and to nurture, within myself, moment by moment, the quality of quiet presence, quietly being present to my life, which sanctifies it…to live as if the candle is lighted.

    Likewise, take time to assess the day and find gratitude for the moments that touched your soul in some way, especially the small ones.  This is an excellent way to thoughtfully and intentionally shift into the evening hours.

Rest and restore in the sanctuary of everyday moments. Our lives are abundant in the ordinary, and it can be a profound gateway to something greater if we simply shift our perception a little.  The depth and meaning we seek in life is often not found in the big things….the parties, weddings, promotions and extravagant vacations.  Instead, we can find richness in our lives right where we are as we practice taking pleasure in the everyday stuff of life.

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