When I wrote my last column of 2015 I had every intention of re-joining you back in January, rested and refreshed with a brand new instalment of my faith-filled meanderings. But then life got in the way, as it so often has a habit of doing. I’m happy to report it was the good sort of life − my partner and I are expecting our first child this summer − yet somehow I still just couldn’t fight the urge to hole up, retreat and seek some inner sanctuary away from everyone and everything, while I, that is we, absorbed this very special piece of news.
It goes without saying then that sanctuary is a theme I’ve been exploring a lot over these last few, slightly nerve-wracking months. It’s an imperative part of the human condition to be able to seek sanctuary from the outside word, or sometimes even ourselves – after all, it’s where we start off life, nestled in our own private quarters in the womb. Yet the idea of sanctuary, and the respite it promises, doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious way.
A church, temple or mosque probably has the most obvious association with spiritual sanctuary, yet in this day and age, how relevant is that concept, really, to most of us? I’m already resigned to the fact that I barely have time to visit my closest friends regularly, let alone a site of religious significance. But could this be where we’re all going wrong? I know from my own (very fortunate) experiences reviewing retreats for magazines, that being alone, in silence, with only yourself for company isn’t always as immediately comfortable as you might expect. The sudden lack of stimulation can feel deafening (jeez, is it really only 6pm? Still fours hours ’til bedtime…). But, after the initial panic wears off, the easy, quiet calm and space that comes from being alone is also the ultimate balm for an addled mind. It just takes a bit of getting used to.
And, once I’m over the cold turkey of switching off my phone and email, it’s this concept of quiet sanctuary that appeals to me most. I know, hand on heart, that when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of life, or of others (perceived) demands on me, retreating to a place of simple sanctuary, as opposed to diving onto social media to post a rant or seek out sympathisers, is the best way to recalibrate.
Your own personal sanctuary doesn’t have to be a religious building, or even a retreat on a remote mountainside. It doesn’t even need to be that quiet, if you’re good at meditating and shutting out the noise that is. Consider a public garden, tucked off a back street around the corner from your office, or a calm corner of a library where the books buzz humbly with wisdom, yet really ask nothing of you if you’re just not in the mood for reading. These everyday sanctuaries are accessible to all of us, as are most churches and temples, yet somehow they feel a little easier to enter.
Most importantly, what successful sanctuary requires is a change from routine. Somewhere you can slip off your invisible robe of obligation and just rest a while, hidden from view. It may only be for half an hour a day, but that space, albeit a metaphorical one, can go a hell of a long way towards rebooting your internal resilience. And, in what’s set to be a year quite unlike any other for me, I think I’ll be taking more than a few sneaky trips back to my own personal sanctuary, in between the nappy changes and breast pumping that is, in the hope of retaining some semblance of self and sanity. Just remind me I said that in six months, okay?