Understanding sanctuary

Last year G and I found our chats over dinner, dishes, and stuck-in-traffic moments were often wandering to the same place. We kept returning to a soft ache – for idleness, for quiet, for space. He talked about working towards selling everything and moving to Nowhere. How it would feel to live simply and lightly surrounded by bush, by sea, by sky. We talked about trips, remote spots to stay, and long hikes with soaring scenery. I imagined wilderness, silence, just-us-ness. Deep lungfuls of air that smelled of pine needles and salt. But in all the well-worn conversational tracks, we always seemed to imagine that true restoration, for us, was to be found at a place. A remote, wild, uncomplicated place – miles from traffic and people and cell-phone coverage. We envisaged a beautiful cabin. Fantasised about star-lit nights and slow unscheduled days.

I still badly want to make this place.

But we also love our lives here in the city. And our weekends, while often chore-laden, are rich with friends and fun. So something nagged at us – how often would we actually make it this place? Once a month? Once every two? And the cost. With the necessity of paying guests would our quiet place simply become another chore to be attended to? For us at least, ceasing to be what we had intended?

And I was curious. Did others feel this need for sanctuary? How did they create moments that sustained them? I interviewed friends and colleauges and acquaintances – tell me about your day to day life, tell me about your last holiday, tell me about the stuff that makes you feel drained. And then: tell me about the things in your life that help you feel vibrant, whole, resilient.

We talked about exercise – not-negotiable daily yoga practice, paddle-boarding sessions scheduled between meetings, 5am walks. Prioritising time to be by ourselves versus feeling amazing because we have spent time with our friends. Holidays were divisive: Wholly necessary, or a logistical and financial luxury? Restorative long beyond the actual time away (anticipating, reliving)? Or a fleeting, feel-good blip – the benefit of which is seriously undone by the schedule stress prior and post. We talked about the nourishing practice of finding pleasure – flowers on the counter, a scented candle burning, a bed with fine sheets, a delicious treat. A moment each evening sitting on the deck looking out to sea. We talked about how sometimes, sometimes, all that we can think of to prop ourselves back up again after a total shit-storm of a day is an evening of indescribably bad TV. Several glasses of wine. A mountain of whatever chocolatey junk can be ferreted out from the depths of the kitchen cupboards. And in that moment, that’s exactly what we need. But how, at other times, being disciplined, and intentional, and self-reflective is how we create nourishment – how we build pockets of sanctuary into our lives, and fortify ourselves with resilience.

And I realised, high on connectedness, that restoration is a Thing – a big, complex, multi-faceted Thing. What renews me, might make you feel lonely. That weekend road trip with no fixed destination, which makes you feel bulletproof again, may make me so anxious I bury my fingernails into my flesh and ask on repeat when we can stop for a cup of tea and a lie down. What gives us sanctuary today may be the exact opposite of what we need tomorrow. How being delighted by the one or two or three times a year we get to leave home and take a holiday is not enough. That we can feel restored everyday – by a place, by a person, by a thing, by a moment.

Tiny Sanctuaries. In all their forms.