Exploring Personal Sanctuary

Cultivating a personal sacred space toolbox…

In my spiritual study group we take turns leading sessions and assigning a discipline or practice for the time between meetings…homework for the soul is continual…sorry about it! *wink* At a recent meeting, a discipline was offered by Sharon “to find a personal sanctuary and report back.”

What I found–instead of a simple homework/soulwork assignment–was that the task revealed many definitions and dimensions of personal sanctuary.

*High five* for Sharon for the inspirational task! Let’s go through some sanctuary treasures together:

Sanctuary as a noun
1: a consecrated place: such as
a: the ancient Hebrew temple at Jerusalem or its holy of holies
b(1): the most sacred part of a religious building (such as the part of a Christian church in which the altar is placed)
(2): the room in which general worship services are held
(3): a place (such as a church or a temple) for worship
2a(1): a place of refuge and protection
(2): a refuge for wildlife where predators are controlled and hunting is illegal
b: the immunity from law attached to a sanctuary


And as I reflected on definitions and what might constitute sanctuary for me, I recognized that during Covid-19, literal sanctuary shifted from a temple to a virtual space to join a sermon, webinar or gathering. The usual in-person A Search for God study group gatherings adjusted for HD filtered webcams and fully mutable experiences. Video-off or self-mute options became sacred sanctuary tools in virtual spaces for me!

Sanctuary was not just an inner chamber of a temple but a soothing playlist, image, friendship call, and family reconnecting over miles and trials. I could virtually join a sermon, a study group, a classroom, a protest, a livestream of the incredible and most accessible DSO, attend ordinary gatherings, listen to music, or share a photo or meme that I experienced as qualities of contemplative ease.

I had a short list of sanctuary started,
the usual suspects:

Meditation or prayer space,
nature and gardens at sunrise…

The short List

The definitions related to sanctuary as a sacred space or safe refuge in literal boundaries of buildings and city limits expanded to include mental and spiritual boundaries of the mind and heart free from virtual assault for me.

I began to wonder:

  • Can I create sanctuary without walls?
  • What can I identify in my life that draws me into sanctuary?
  • How can I use my inspirational tools to mimic sanctuary boundaries through sound, nature, a cell phone, film or social media?
  • How can I crawl into the invisible walls of a pause to produce a calm-natural-holy place of sanctuary wherever I am?
  • How can I create a breath…room…space…that allows my inner voice to speak for my inner ears to hear?

…crawl into the invisible walls of a pause…


We’ll begin with an understanding that I do not tell people what is sanctuary to them; I give broad examples and ask questions as others develop their own personal definitions and expressions toward sanctuary they can own and love. As with meditation or other peacebuilding tools, there is no benefit for someone to know an advanced practice if they don’t relate to it, or can’t use it in their daily life. Similarly, here, we are exploring wider definitions of sanctuary and using questions to create your own personal sacred pause…Sanctuary!

Start your written or digital notes…Your own personal sanctuary awaits!

Souls as Sanctuary: I got a call from a friend out of the blue and we talked about faith, friendship, family, trauma, community, hurts, healing wounds, pandemics and power, racial justice and healing circles, pronouns and respect, hip-hop, football teams, rock and blues, astrology and personality commonalities, ebb and flow of righteous rage, and exciting new career beginnings we find in what people call retirement. This was my first “ah-ha” out-of-the-box idea that Sanctuary was rich with treasure outside my narrow definition and boundaries; a vibe and vibrant, loud with laughter…soft with tears, and an exploration of possibilities with a trusted friend. I am fortunate to have a few wonderful friends in my life who bring me sanctuary in this exciting, honest and thoughtful way. I found inner calm not at an alter of silence, but in sowing electric and soulful solutions into one another’s hearts…

  • What conversation can you recall that brought you to a place of sanctuary?
  • Whose voice, laughter, example or presence lets you breathe a little?
  • Who is your sacred listener?

Sanctuary was a vibe and vibrant…

Souls as sanctuary

Creativity as Sanctuary: As a creative person I find sacred soul moments when I am in the process of painting, sketching or designing a new gift for a loved one. My art sanctuary is colorful and messy, inspiring and humbling, awkward and beautiful… Finding expression through clay or dance is a wave of sacred expression that others can also share. Finding the right color to express joy, fear or awe holds a special kind of inner satisfaction.

Creating a colorful personal mandala for reflection or focusing, designing an astrological picture of your natal chart, or making a Life Seal can bring us deeper to connecting ourselves to our unique celestial fingerprint or interpreting inner messages. Bringing the conscious self information from the inner self through symbols, patterns and colors can inspire us to Know Thyself a little deeper.

Tinkering creatively in the solitary spaces of a woodshop, garage or yard can seem like sanctuary activities to us. Creating gifts in our sanctuary spaces can make gift-giving a more sacred act. Drawing cards or making artistic gifts of all mediums for others inspired by sanctuary is a special treasure for you, as well as for them.

  • What are your artistic sanctuary practices?
  • What kinds of creative expressions do you gift to others?
  • How do colors, symbols, or patterns enhance your sanctuary art practices?
  • Have you created a picture that expresses your soul, faith, values, philosophical truth, or vision for your life?
  • What artistic movements, techniques, or styles are you willing to add to the sanctuary toolbox?

Sacred space can be held while knitting, coloring a coloring book or weaving a basket. Putting together an artistic display or outfit can bridge the real world and the sacred design spaces we wish to wrap around us like a plush blanket.

Dreams as Sanctuary: I had a dream I was digesting that had vivid images of ancient wise ones, recycled misunderstandings, hearts full of pride and a circle around calm waters reflecting understanding and nurturing peace. It brought a deep awareness that similar stories of pain and healing repeated for thousands of years…I awoke with a thought…reminder…that deep subconscious dream messages are a sacred sanctuary for me.

Dreams reflect and distort images from our reality to get our very distracted attention. Those who show up in our dreams are often times ourselves in other forms. Sometimes they come as our enemies, or those who have hurt us, or hurt someone we love. Sometimes they come as loving messengers from our deep subconscious to give us a deeply known truth we forgot…again. The boogeyman or the angel comes to gift us alertness for action, for restorative peace…for sanctuary.

Dreams are a bridge from our hurt or our hatred to forgiveness…a sanctuary space in the ethers where our souls distance between our resentments and hurts and the letting go of our part of the unconscious tug-of-war rope we have tied to others’ faults. Releasing them as our eternal enemies….recognizing the wounded who wound…(let the courts/karma/restorative circles do their thing, though! *wink*).

Sometimes our pride separates us from inner sanctuary. We misunderstand our own and others’ intentions when we build that barrier of belief that “Everyone has courageous (insert your strengths or virtue here)” when, in fact, they are just doing the best they can with their own strengths and are wondering “WTH is wrong with her/him/them?”. *Wink, wink*

Some dreams point out our own misunderstanding and lack of trust in different parts of ourselves. Reason and intellect are masters and we can strive to learn more….but the heart’s intuition and emotion are vital partners we should honor and have a little faith in…just don’t go to the deep end without floaties, see?

So, dream sanctuary is listening and recording the dreams that speak to us on a deeper level and bring our own ancient recycled misunderstandings into focus as clear as spiritualized wise ones with a message…or a big pink Godzilla. *Shrugs*

  • How can you best write, record, draw, or voice your dreams for reflection and sanctuary contemplation?
  • What dream have you had that has brought you deeper into your own feeling of safety and sacred spaces?
  • What dreams are on repeat and how can you draw insight to find sanctuary peace from them?
  • Can you ask God, your higher self, or your inner wisdom for a sanctuary dream, however you define that?

Images as Sanctuary: Some of us don’t have a lush garden, a garage or woodshop, a place to worship, a room to watch the sunrise or a family that loves that rooty tooty candle or incense aroma. *Sigh* What I have found through the pandemic is social media has curated places where we can view other people’s sanctuaries that inspire and calm us just by scrolling there. View From My Window and other Facebook pages, Pinterest and Instagram connect people around the world to share their views, sanctuary essentials or sacred spaces…and yes, cats!

I’ve been a virtual sanctuary witness to stunning stained glass windows, hammocks, fireplaces, snowy mountains, oceans, rivers, temples, rainbows, desert storms, wildlife, sparkling pools, lush gardens, cascading balconies, skyscrapers, porch swings, beloved pets lounging, beautiful trees planted in honor of a mother or spouse who passed on, toy-littered courtyards, fountains dancing and boats floating that crisscross the globe in my feed each day.

In a soul healing moment I can take all the acts of violence, book banning and hateful pulls for self-righteous power that people threaten to oppress us with, and I can visit an image, page or window to sew a little sanctuary thread into my consciousness. All the images of personal sanctuaries are shared and appreciated, and we can see how many images of sanctuary are necessary for the world to spin, and realize how much EVERYONE deserves their own personal, safe spaces and images of sanctuary to share with the world…

  • What images have given you a sense of sacred calm when you reflect on them?
  • Do you have other forms of sanctuary images others have shared with you?
  • Where do you find your sanctuary views?
  • What sanctuary images can you share with the world?

Night as Sanctuary: (PG) Late at night when stillness arrives with the night, I start my loving or angry prayer-ranting, and then give quiet thanks for my private ethereal stenographer assigned to my case who suffers each night…sorry about it…through large and small…always repetitive…*nodding*…personal, community or world problems. My favorite pillow comforts my very thick Taurus head full of everything that I fear/surrender/fight. Wrestling to do my little part and have zero influence over each day is discouraging….yet we pray…over and over…infinity…and wake to try again tomorrow. Sanctuary is the water. Daily planting the seeds of care, justice, beauty, hope, belonging, community and love during the day, and at night my prayer is my attempt to reach “sanctuary water.”

Okay. Keep on keeping on. Sanctuary is in our rituals, repetitions and hopes, not that THIS PRAYER WILL DO IT…but that we are all dropping our seeds along the way in our little parts of the world and adding our watering prayers/thoughts/hopes together. Maybe it is very private, but maybe it is God’s View From My Window.

  • What worry do you meld into hopes or prayer sanctuary at night…or morning…or on your commute to the shop, office or dining room laptop?
  • What is your deep and soulful prayer (thought, wish, hope, offering in private to your own soul) that feels like sanctuary?
  • What sacred seeds are you planting by day and watering in thought, prayer or hope at night?

Film as Sanctuary: I have had many sanctuary films on repeat for decades (yes, decades). I find a range of sanctuary in films that move me and bring me laughter, peace and a sense of truth that we are responsible for our journey, but we are responsible for protecting and caring for one another…making the world less hard and horrible, gain strength but be soft…finding the balance within that universal truth is up to each of us…and we need each other to get there! I need moving images to help me express my fear, to laugh at my absurd seriousness, and to help me face our very precarious human future. I need films for the silly and serious warrior spirit inside me to grapple with how I can live in a world of suspicion, selfishness and hate and be wise, kind and tend to my wounds with care and not in despair.

Life is not fair…not in any way we can clearly recognize from our tiny place on the little blue ball in the ginormous universe…Occasionally as I trod along the road carrying my ACEs traumas and fears, I glimpse the fact that I also have a big garbage bag full of benefits to offer that I picked up along the way (why it’s not a Gucci bag IDK).

In my Film Sanctuary Collection there is a film for every encouragement, truth, inspiration and courageous action that I need: Tommy Boy, The Peaceful Warrior, Mission Joy, The Rain Maker, Brokedown Palace, 13th, Iron Jawed Angels, The Contender, Padre Pio (2000), Door to Door, The Matrix, What the Bleep Do We Know?… *Looks up* Too many to list.

  • What films do you have on repeat?
  • What films do you find deep comfort, relief and courage in?
  • Which films create a sense of sanctuary for the many lessons and luggage you are dragging?
  • Let’s glue some wheels on your own bag of benefits and grab some popcorn!

Sound as Sanctuary: I love crystal singing bowls, Yo-Yo Ma, gospel or Metallica. I love Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix and Natalie Merchant; music transports me to sanctuary in private spaces or through headphones on a crowded train. Give me the vibrational sanctuary of Everlast & Santana, Collective Soul or Suzanne Buirgy Spotify The View Form Here *nodding* Do it!

I’ll be in a sound sanctuary with my partner’s random selection in his vast vinyl collection. I’m often under the influence of a random soothing YouTube or Soundcloud instrumental from composers like Dusty Dreams Music, Barry Goldstein or Mind Castle to ready my mind for the latest task or meditation.

I select sanctuary sounds for some perfect moment or mood and IT IS ALL VERY PERSONAL (and I am not fighting with you about it!). Sometimes I need a wake-me-up sacred sound from Joan Jett, and sometimes soothing India Arie creates my sanctuary sound chamber. Support whatever new or classic sounds, genres, eclectic selections, choirs or chanting tracks groove you into your private sanctuary spaces. Amen!

  • Which riffs, voices, albums, songs, artists are in your sound sanctuary playlist?
  • Which YouTube sound magician subscriptions bring you sanctuary peace?
  • What genres of music create a sound boundary for your sanctuary moments?

Writing as Sanctuary: Reading, blogging, journaling and typing can create sanctuary for me. There is usually something in the perspective, topic or flow that signals a soul-sister/brother/non-other connection. I am firmly in a sacred sanctuary space when reading Paulo Coelho, Dr. Cornel West, Anne Lamott, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Dan Millman, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer….far too many pause-inspiring writers/thinkers/poets to list. My Spiritual Director’s poetry invites me deeply into sanctuary as do my many wonderful sanctuary thought-leader friends.

Sanctuary writing takes me to the troubles and encourages me to look deeper within myself for the courage to know what is awful and beautiful about life, to meet people where they are, and to have compassion for my own weakness and lack of faith in myself/my God/my fellow humans. I seek to read, write and share the powerful truth of our fragile and formidable humanity. Sanctuary found in soul writing that reads us into a pause for a gaze out the window/up to the sky/down at our feet to drink in the soul-touching perspective. Writers who remind us of our own unique purpose are like road signs and off ramps to sanctuary rest stops on our collective human highway. We are all capable of writing or reading ourselves into a smooth sanctuary pause.

  • What are you reading or writing that always pulls you into sacred, sanctuary moments?
  • Who are the authors, poets, journalists or bloggers who bring you to pause-worthy sanctuary?
  • What the the topics you read or write about when sanctuary moves inside you?

Sanctuary as Community: I am fortunate to be in a sanctuary state with sanctuary cities, libraries and communities working to secure and proclaim legal sanctuary for ALL! I feel deep sanctuary-calm when supporting, and in proximity to, literal sanctuary provided to others. Sanctuary is in the schools, social services, collaborations for justice and equity, restorative circles, library programs, community discussions, and the very holy work of temples, churches, mosques and synagogues.

I walk each morning and I find sanctuary in the streets I explore. I see sanctuary in neighborhood Black Lives Matter yard signs and in the rainbow little library under a rainbow flag above rainbow steps leading to sanctuary porches. I see sanctuary in the Save the Planet sign and FAIR HOUSING NOW! poster as I walk past a construction truck pulling out of another restored, overpriced, uber-taxed brick bungalow. I see happy birds in a wide variety of mature trees, professionally manicured lawns, and crushed soda cans in the street. I see church steeples and vines, DEAD END and Share the Road street signs. We yearn for communities of belonging with sanctuary sign-littered streets and celebrate the signs that call for real unity until we don’t need them anymore.

I see sanctuary in the invisible re-stockers of Little Libraries, and in the old oak trees and wispy weeping willows. Sanctuary sped by me blaring deep bass from a silent electric car. I found sanctuary in an annoyed squirrel as I disturbed his tree-to-ground collection team organized for the “what the hell are you humans waiting for?” season.

I feel sanctuary in a treelined sidewalk on a hot and humid day, and in the many scents and colors of flower and veggie gardens along the path. I see sanctuary as the lady walking her dogs crosses the street for a young mother struggling with a double-wide “past our nap-time” stroller.

I see sanctuary in my shadow on the sidewalk building back physical endurance after pandemic-related losses, grief, and family health challenges. I find sanctuary just walking and noticing evidence of play and nurturing in the neighborhood…and in just leaning into a new community carefully, distanced or masked.

  • What community activities bring you sanctuary?
  • What places in your community feel like sanctuary to you?
  • Where can you look more deeply for sanctuary experiences or spaces around you?
  • Where can you offer sanctuary to others or to nature within your circle or neighborhood?

Sanctuary as a voice: I’m in sanctuary when I play an audiobook of Marianne Williamson reading Everyday Grace or listen to Pádraig Ó Tuama Poetry Unbound from On Being. I find sanctuary when I guide a meditation group, when I voice an opinion, sing in traffic, or use my voice to sooth or encourage a fellow seeker. I have experienced vocal sanctuary even when facing a person in the throws of hate speech or ignorance…interruption is building sanctuary for ourselves and others.

I am in sanctuary when I listen to other voices in Spiritual Direction, when I speak with my own Spiritual Director, or host a class or group. Sanctuary is present when I sign a petition, write a recommendation for a colleague, apply for a job or write a proposal, interview a candidate, type that 100th email, as I question or seek advice, say YES, say NO, offer comfort on a comment feed or a private message, or when I use my words to encourage my fellow human family…I voice absolute right to sanctuary for myself and for them.

With my voice or words I love… I care…I trust…I fight…I wound…I heal. Even in my silence there is a still, small voice of sanctuary.

  • What are you saying, singing or screaming that speaks sanctuary to you?
  • Which podcasts, audiobooks or presenters hold you in sanctuary space as you listen?
  • Which voices calm you or speak you into sanctuary?

Whether your sanctuary screams, laughs or is silent…is in motion or calm…moves in pictures or rides sound vibrations…have fun exploring sanctuary, supporting all manifestations of sanctuary for yourself, your neighbors and the world. May you be in the heart of sanctuary, *waves* always! – Danielle

Extra Sanctuary thanks to Eric, Pammy, & Canva *hug*

Published by The Conversation Peace Collective- Danielle Henson SD

Spiritual Direction, Meditation & Collaboration

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