Sanctuary

A house that offers sanctuary, that embraces family and friends alike with comfort and warmth, becomes a refuge from the world outside—a truly peaceful home and haven that soothes the senses and refreshes the spirit. — Ann Rooney Heuer 

I believe this body is my sacred space. Wherever I am, it is a place of refuge and sanctity for me and yet, without a sanctuary to retreat to this body would be lost in chaos. Perhaps this is the difference between a sacred space and a sanctuary. I believe that all space is sacred from the Buddhist temples in Thailand to the the mass burial grounds of Cambodia but not all sacred space is necessarily a sanctuary.

When I was a child, there was no place to go to be alone in my home. My brother and I shared the same room until he left for Viet Nam and I left for college. I found sanctuary in an old oak tree in the woods near the railroad tracks not far from our house. I would spend hours there watching the birds at eye level and following the ants as they made their way through hidden trails into the catacombs of the tree’s heart. It was my first conscious awareness of sacred space and what it meant to have a sanctuary. Once on a visit home from college, I discovered my beloved tree had been cut down and my small forest replaced with a mini-mall.

Some years ago I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Joseph Campbell shortly before his departure from this world. More than once he reiterated the importance of having a sacred space — a sanctuary where one could go listen to his favorite music, read his favorite books, lose awareness of the business of living and instead reflect on its joys. Ever since that experience, having a sanctuary has become as important to me as having air to breathe. After being around people all day at work, I look forward to the quiet and solitude. Sometimes I read or write but often I just sit and look out the window. At my core I am a loner yet I exist in a socialized world. I don’t fit well in today’s hustle, bustle 24/7 lifestyle. I need time alone to reflect, to recharge, to clear the cobwebs from my head and often to do nothing at all.

Throughout the years my sanctuary has taken on various forms. From a tiny two person tent during the four years I led bicycle tours around the world, to a small dormer loft that provided refuge from the winter’s cold during my stay in Canada, and my beach house in Fiji where the calming waters of the South Pacific would lull me to sleep. My current sanctuary is a studio apartment in the El Centro area of Cuenca, Ecuador located on the second floor of the hotel where I would stay during my visits to this city resting at 8500 feet above the sea and surrounded by the Andes mountains. Inside there is enough room to do yoga, a bed for naps and sleeping, a workspace for writing, a table for two to dine, and a trunk to hold my art supplies and other important items. My Chinese calligraphy brushes hang on the wall and my few remaining books have easily relocated to their new home. I am a king here of my own domaine with no responsibilities but to myself.

Blaise Pascal said,

All of man’s troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly alone in a room.

Private space is important and something we don’t always have access to. In many homes the bathroom has become the only place where one can find sanctuary from the outside world.

As much as my sanctuary is defined by what it contains. It is also defined by what is absent. There are no distractions here, no strangers knocking at my door, or the ringing of phones constantly interrupting my silence. I can close the door, and the world becomes this little room. I like knowing I can leave this space and when I return everything will be the same, waiting for me to take up life where I left off last. From this space of solitude, my sanctuary, I can travel to the farthest corners of the universe, or down a flight of stairs to the streets of my beloved city. I want for little more.