Finding Your Sanctuary

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I once heard a Muslim woman describe what it was like to wear a burqa, the garment that covers a woman’s body except for the veiled eyeholes, which allow her to see out but no one else to see in. I’d assumed the garment would be somewhat cumbersome or uncomfortable and was surprised to hear her say that she felt quite safe inside her burqa, like she had her own personal sanctuary that provided a bit of distance from the harshness of the world.

Lately, I’ve thought we all could use an emotional burqa to shelter us from the realities of the world, as well as the COVID-related weariness that has settled in our bones. Now that we’ve moved from the acute to the chronic and back to the acute again, most of us have hit our stress thresholds. Even though we can’t drop everything and head off to a luxury resort or mountaintop retreat right now, there are other ways to experience the serenity of a healing sanctuary.

Right now, take a moment to visualize a specific place that brings you a sense of calm. It could be a familiar location you visit often like a favorite family vacation spot. Or it might be a remote destination you’ve seen only in films or travel books, but to which you feel a special connection. Or it could simply be a place that exists in your imagination like a beautiful beachfront home. Whatever you choose for your emotional sanctuary, its calming powers are at their most effective when you visit it often.

Dr. Herbert Benson is the author of the classic, “The Relaxation Response,” a groundbreaking book when it was published in 1975 and still a go-to reference for patients who need de-stressing techniques. Dr. Benson says, “The idea is to develop a routine, a time to bring forth the relaxation response that is as much a part of the day as brushing your teeth.”  You certainly wouldn’t skip a day of brushing your teeth, would you?  So how can you make relaxation so habitual that skipping a day is just as unthinkable?

One way is to solidify the time and place you visit your emotional sanctuary. Whether that’s first thing in the morning (my favorite time) or before you go to bed at night, make it part of your daily routine. Even if you barely have room for the kids, dog, or extended family members who’ve joined your bubble, with some creativity and a little selfishness, you can claim your sanctuary.

  • Identify a spot in your home that calms and comforts you. It can be a bedroom, a home office, or even a comfy chair that speaks to you.
  • Add something special to your sanctuary that feels personal and makes it your own. It could be a cherished book, a vase of fresh flowers, or a family photo.
  • Negotiate some alone time that you can spend in your newly claimed sanctuary in total peace, if only for five minutes a day. If necessary, send the kids or spouse grocery shopping or out to walk the dog.
  • Settle into your sanctuary and breathe deeply with gratitude for all you have.

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