This Thing Bigger Than Us: Creating Sacred Space

“I have lived with several Zen masters – all of them cats.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

When I was a little girl, I loved to sit in my great grandmother’s garden. She lived in a cabin in the woods and her garden was wild with pumpkin tendrils and snapdragons. In the early morning, deer came to nibble at the plants that grew through the chicken-wire fence. Presiding over the chaos was a worn-out statue of Mary. I loved that statue, not for what it represented, but because her feet were bare beneath her robe and her outstretched hands were eroded from catching the rain.

As kids, we naturally find places of peace and wonder. Whether you loved to lie out on the trampoline in the backyard or in the fort in your closest, you too had a special place that allowed you to take a break from the world and daydream. Adults often lose that place unless it is built into their religion or culture. Ideally, you can create a space you go to everyday even if it’s a bench in the park or a cushion tucked in a corner of your room. You can also have bigger sacred spaces you make pilgrimages to throughout your life – places of personal or global meaning. But just because you have those big bucket list type of plans doesn’t mean you don’t need a daily space too.

Why is this space so important? If you have a spiritual practice, that means you, well, practice. It’s not about having decided on answers to those big “why are we here” type questions. It’s about daily getting in touch with your center, the place of peace inside you that is not affected by the constant flux of life. The physical space becomes a reminder of this priority. The more you practice “dropping in,” the more likely you will be able to do it when the shit hits the fan. If you already have a strong spiritual practice, consider doing some cross-training of the soul. Don’t wait for that devastating break-up, the death of a good friend, illness, or global tragedy to get in touch with what is truly important to you. To quote Tegan and Sara “it’s a silly time to learn to swim, when you start to drown.” Wherever you are, even if you feel like you are already drowning, you can start practicing or expand your existing practice. Creating a beautiful place that speaks to you will help even if it’s only a few quotes, a photo, and a postcard taped to the inside of your bathroom mirror or a playlist you listen to while your on that park bench.

Ideas for What Can Go In Your Sacred Space:

  • Photos of loved ones or people who inspire you
  • Candles, Incense, Aromatherapy
  • Rocks, Feathers, Flowers
  • Meaningful Objects
  • Statues of figures whose qualities you’d like to embody

Ideas of What to Do in Your Sacred Space:

  • Journal (I like doing three or four stream-of-conscious pages I never read again)
  • Breath
  • Meditate (more on techniques to come)
  • Feel your emotions
  • Nothing (as the Zen Buddhists say, “don’t just do something, sit there.”)
  • Pray (to God, your highest self, nature, the universe) or practice Loving Kindness Meditation
  • Draw or get in your “flow” by doing any repetitive movement (knitting, mendalas, etc.)
  • Make a Gratitude List
  • Say Affirmations (positive active statements you want to have replace the loop of negative thoughts in your head) or Chant
  • Read anything that inspires sonder (poetry, quotes, spiritual text, daily wisdom)
  • Listen
  • Mind/Body Practice: Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, etc. (find free classes in your area or watch classes online)

Be intentional about creating mindfulness even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. Many great teachers advise working up to 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night for laypeople (if you have no intention of becoming a nun or monk). Do whatever feels good to you. In my experience, spending time with my emotions and with silence actually frees up time and space in my life. I tend to shift my priorities when I spend time “checking-in” and it helps me drop my people-pleasing tendencies.

Also, do you ever notice that when you’re stressed out and in a hurry everything goes wrong? You do ridiculous things like leave your keys in the car door or only put the top half-way on your coffee. You snap at your girlfriend, forget a deadline, and send that email meant for your best friend to everyone. In yoga and in meditation, we talk about bring the state of mindfulness off your mat or cushion and carrying through your life. Suddenly, doing the dishes becomes a mystical experience or the commute to work is full of beauty. Why? Because you’ve gotten in the habit of being awake. You’ve taken a break from your endless cycle of thoughts and gently moved aside your ego. You’ve become child-like. Welcome back to the place where everything is new!


 

If you have a question you would like us to grapple with, email me at danio@autostraddle.com

Dani is a writer, yoga teacher, and cancer survivor. She likes spending hours in bookstores, being in nature, vegan sushi, tea, and snuggling her kangaroo puppy, Leo. Visit her at www.danielleorner.com.

Dani has written 3 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Thankyou for this. There are so many good suggestions here.
    I love the feeling of being present with my emotions when relaxed that

    to quote you

    “In my experience, spending time with my emotions and with

    silence actually frees up time and space in my life. I tend to shift my priorities when I spend time “checking-in” and it helps me drop my people-pleasing tendencies”.

    I can vouch for this and it is my goal. I don’t always get to the part of freeing up time or shifting priorities or diminish my people pleasing tendancies but, it is a good goal to remain loyal to, for me.

    Thankyou.

  2. Because you mentioned Loving Kindness Meditation, another great source on YT is Tara Brach. She posts weekly updates on new topics and she’s got such a soothing voice.

    Good post, thanks!

  3. I am just about to start therapy for my anxiety disorders and I think a quiet space for me to debrief each day is a fantastic idea and I’m sure it will help me along my journey to wellbeing. Thank you yet again for a fantastic article!

  4. Thank you for reminding me of what I used to know! This used to be really helpful for me, especially as someone with OCD, for slowing my brain down and figuring out where I am, but I stopped. I need to find a new place (moved cross-country) and start being there again.

  5. I do morning pages which (in the book, anyway), the author describes (frustratingly) as “meditation for Westerners,” (where Westerners are “active” and Easterners are “passive”) but is better described as “meditation for people who can’t sit still.”

    My apartment is tiny, so I don’t have any spare space to make “a space,” but for my morning pages, I use OmmWriter for a virtual “space.” It sings a nice little song at me and makes cute typewriter noises when I hit the keys, and it turns off notifications/etc.

    I’m really enjoying this column, especially with Dear Queer Diary and The Fool’s Journey. The combination just speaks to me and what I need in my life right now. Thanks, Autostraddle, and thanks, Dani.

  6. Love this!

    In my dreams I picture making a beautiful sacred space out of natural elements to bring me back to my Native Canadian roots and Tibetan prayer flags that I got when I was in Tibet.

    In reality (as an autistic person), what actually works best for me as a sacred space is

    – putting on noise cancelling headphones
    – turning off the lights and closing the blinds
    – putting on a soft blindfold
    – rolling myself up in a fluffy duvet
    – sitting in the corner with my back against the wall

    Any time when I can push out some of the information that comes barrelling at me through my senses feels like the most sacred of spaces.

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