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Sanctuary or Escape? What Are You Creating With Your Spiritual Practice?

Sanctuary: a sacred place, a place of refuge where we connect to the deepest part of ourselves. It is the gateway to peace, neutrality, clarity and transformation. How do we find it? Some of us wander in the woods, some listen to music, garden, groom the dog, clean the kitchen, practice yoga or meditate, go to temples, go into an altered state of consciousness or create a sacred space in our home. There are many forms of sanctuary, yet few of us have it; we settle for escape instead.

Needing sanctuary doesn't imply that we should isolate from people. On the contrary, to be emotionally healthy and make sound choices, we need connection to others. We need to feel love, so that we may feel both more calm and yet emboldened to be more honest or courageous. We need input, so that we may see options to which we are blind. And we need feedback, so that we can see our own thinking and behaviors more clearly.

Needing sanctuary doesn't imply that we should isolate from people. On the contrary, to be emotionally healthy and make sound choices, we need connection to others. We need to feel love, so that we may feel both more calm and yet emboldened to be more honest or courageous.

But we also need a quiet, sacred place and/or a process through which we may connect deeply to our inner being and to higher consciousness, a place or process that allows us to think more clearly, be guided and free ourselves from other people's agendas, fears, anger and thoughts. And more to the point, a place or process through which to free ourselves from our own agendas, fears, anger and thoughts. In other words, we need sanctuary from our own minds, guts, opinions and emotions, as well as sanctuary from our reactions to the mind, guts, opinions and emotions of others.

What is the difference between seeking sanctuary and seeking escape? When we seek sanctuary, we are going actually toward something: deeper peace and self-awareness. But when we're stressed, most of us automatically think in terms of getting away from something, the identified source of our stress. For example, we feel we've just got to get out of the house or away from our kids or partner, or we need a break from work or some other activity. We are aware of some discomfort. We may even recognize we are overloaded, tired, frustrated or stressed, and we intuitively recognize we need an interruption of a normal routine for some purpose. But what is that purpose? Some of us are conscious enough to say that we need time for ourselves, to get centered or to think. But even that articulation may not be clear enough, because we may have not yet understood that what we are trying to get away from is ourselves -- our own conflicted, unresolved or negative feelings.

Let's look at some examples of this. People typically say, "I just have to get away from that nagging bitch," or "The kids are driving me nuts," or "The stress of work is getting to me, and I need a break." But if we begin to understand sanctuary as the gateway to deeper connection and clarity, we could completely shift our articulation and our perspective. So instead of saying "I just have to get away from that nagging bitch," we could say, "I notice that I am getting anxious or angry and am reacting to what my partner is saying. I need sanctuary to admit my reactivity, get distance from it and examine it, so that I can return to the conversation with some thoughts about what I'm feeling and why." Or instead of saying, "The stress of work is getting to me, and I need a break," we could say, "I notice that I feel drained by work. I must have a lot of mixed feelings about my job now, and I need to get clear as to what's going on with me."

So now, let's fine-tune our definition of sanctuary. Sanctuary is a place and/or process that helps us achieve peace from our inner turmoil, so that we can become clear and divinely guided. Of course, there are times when we need to get away from someone or something in order to experience that sanctuary, and sometimes we may need to get away from a situation permanently. Maybe a saint can achieve sanctuary in the midst of a bunch of fighting toddlers or an angry spouse or an obnoxious boss. But most of us aren't saints -- at least not yet -- and we need to identify the places and processes that can offer us the most chance to find the peace and courage we need to recognize how we are reacting, why and what to do about it.

The forms of sanctuary can be very different for different people. In fact, the same place or process can be used for sanctuary or escape. I'll share two examples. Sometimes talking to a friend is a way to find sanctuary. I feel love and that gives me the safety and willingness to accept the input and feedback that feed my self-awareness. But sometimes talking to that friend can be a way of revving up my negative feelings, egging me on to become even more self-justifying and negative.

Sometimes going into the woods is a way to disconnect from the stimuli triggering my reactivity and to connect to the eternal, so I can examine myself more deeply, so that I may confront and overcome my reactivity. That is sanctuary. On the other hand, sometimes going to the woods is a way to escape the stimuli triggering my reactivity, so that I don't have to examine that reactivity and I don't have to change.

We all need sanctuary, because we need peace, neutrality and the strength to face ourselves to change. But how do we create sanctuary without moving to a mountain top, where most of us would end up dying of boredom, loneliness, cold or starvation? The most important quality of a sanctuary is its function as a focus for our minds and attention. In this way, we are interrupting our thoughts and detaching from our feelings. For example, we can place a statue in the corner of the room and turn to it in times of stress, even projecting onto it the wisdom that comes through us when we're detached. We can immerse ourselves in music and allow our higher consciousness to work when our minds are distracted. We can go hiking and focus on not tripping, or we can sit and listen to a stream. We can talk to a friend, whose love can help us overcome the fear of being alone and whose awareness can help us become more objective.

Each of these offers us a way to find refuge from our roiling guts and our agitated minds. And they also allow us to detach from the thoughts and emotions of the people around us, whose upsets and agendas can also be severely impacting our peace of mind.

In conclusion, I'd like to leave you with one more thought about sanctuary. In the silence, I hear the Source, and in the sanctuary I find the silence. Until next time, may you pursue ever-more effective forms of sanctuary! I will.

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