CREATING SACRED SPACE
If you follow my blog, you know that I stick to "hard" health topics like gluten sensitivity, thyroid disorders, environmental toxins, etc. As a data nerd, I prefer subjects supported by research and shy away from squishy, opinion-based topics until now.
The past couple of months have been rocky for me. I said good-bye to my pup of seventeen years, and a few days later, my father passed due to complications from a traumatic brain injury. Grief is a unique experience for everyone, and I’ve been surprised both by how I embrace it and try to hide from it. But this blog isn’t about grief. It’s about the importance of sacred space.
What is a sacred space?
The word sacred is an adjective reserved for objects and places worthy of reverence, awe, or respect. An emphasis on sacred space is found in all the major religions of the world throughout history. Such space can be a temple, a mosque, a cathedral or a grove of trees. But sacred space doesn't always require the boundaries of walls or trees. It can be any quiet, inspiring space that connects you to the Divine or to what is most meaningful in your life. It is a space conducive to ritual, meditation, or quiet contemplation.
Though there are no rules about what constitutes sacred space, it seems to be part of the human condition that we create space through action and the placing of objects. Altars are a common theme in most sacred spaces as they provide the focus for those gathered in the area and are a physical representation of spiritual intention. Ritual is a common component of sacred space. The lighting of a candle, the burning of incense, or the arranging of objects are all actions that communicate meaning.
When I was little, and my big sister was my hero (not that that's changed much) I was fascinated by a trunk she kept on her floor. It was covered by a silk tapestry of sorts and had many treasured objects arranged across its surface. It seemed magical to me and, looking back on it, I imbued it with the wisdom, serenity, and safety that I associated with my sister. To my young self, it was clearly an altar with significant meaning.
It’s no coincidence that I have created a similar space for myself in every dorm room, apartment, or home I've inhabited. “Altar” is the best word to describe the sacred spaces I have created over the years. Though my altars have never had a religious purpose, each one has provided me with space for quiet reflection and some measure of spiritual comfort.
Creating your own sacred space
What does "sacred" or "spiritual" mean to you? Though I'm not sure I was conscious of it over the years, my altar has always been the space that grounds me and connects me to my true self. It is where I have heard my voice most clearly. It is also where I feel most connected to Divine or Universal wisdom.
If you are creating sacred space for the first time, it’s helpful to get clear on your purpose. Do you want to:
• Create a space for prayer or meditation?
• Provide a space for connecting with others through ritual or ceremony?
• Co-create an altar with family members so that each member is welcomed into the sacred space?
• Find respite from the demands of life and family – a sanctuary that is yours alone?
• Honor those who have inspired you or who have paved the way for you in some way?
• Create a space not bound to a specific location? A space you can easily re-create wherever the road leads you?
Getting clear on your intention helps to answer the practical questions of creating your space. For instance, if you want to co-create an altar with family, then the altar should probably not be in your bedroom. If you need a mobile sacred space, then a large structure doesn't make sense. You'll want to focus on small objects that can fit in your suitcase to quickly assemble in any hotel room.
Though my altar is in the bedroom I share with my husband, it is my private sanctuary. The structure is fashioned from a small, Danish coffee table that used to live in my father's home office. The objects atop the altar have come to me over the past thirty-plus years; remembrances of those relationships and experiences that most shaped who I am today. Hanging on the wall above my altar is a "living vision board" - a magnetic chalkboard that displays an ever-evolving collection of beliefs and intentions represented in brightly colored chalk and images that inspire me. There is a yin-yang balance to this sacred space. The altar itself honors my past while the vision board propels me forward.
I use my sacred space in several ways. It’s where I meditate. It’s where I sit when I work with my pendulum (another squishy topic for sure) and where I roll out my yoga mat when I practice. It is a dynamic work of art. Just being still and drinking it in brings me peace, grounds me and calms my nervous system.
Sacred is what you make it
You can create sacred spaces alone or with loved ones. Sacred space can be an evolving aspect of your daily life or space to commemorate specific occasions – the changing of the seasons, religious ceremonies, anniversaries, or essential life transitions. Whatever form it takes, creating sacred space can deepen your connection to self, to others and your life's purpose. And, most importantly, having a sacred space can bring you great comfort during difficult times.
It’s clear to me now, having written my way through it, that my sacred space must evolve if I am to move through my grief. I didn't see the connection when I began this blog. I was naïve to think that my pain merely inspired me to turn my attention to the spiritual. How will I remember and honor my father in this space? It breaks my heart to think about it, but I take comfort in the words of Leonard Cohen: "There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”