When I was a child, I had two sanctuaries. One was under a huge tree in the woods visible from my house. The leaves of this tree were thick and the ground beneath was soft with leaves and moss. The branches hung low to the ground so that I felt invisible to the world outside (although my house was safely close by and could be seen and heard). My second sanctuary was my bedroom. I had a room at the front of the house with two windows overlooking the yard, neighborhood, and the woods beyond. I pushed my bed under those two windows and sat there reading for hours, immersed in the authors’ story while watching the world outside my windows.
As I look back in time and remember these spaces, I recall the sense of safety and contentment I felt. I’m also noticing the elements that characterize these spaces. What can I learn about creating my modern sanctuary from these childhood spaces?
How comfortable are you being alone with yourself?
My safe space has an element of alone, invisibility, quiet, and yet it must have eyes on the world. For me, watching the movement of the world allows my brain to soften and my mind to wander. I work while watching cars going by from the windows of The Butterfly House. My meditations are eyes open, where I can calm mind and body by regulating my rhythm with the chorus of the world around me.
What arrangements and elements create, for you, a sense of safety?
I prefer to sit with my back against a wall. As a child, I would tuck my body into the corner of my bedroom. When I was under the tree, my back was resting against the security of the trunk. And I realize I need something on which to place my feet. I either place a footstool or a table directly in front of my meditation chair. If I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor, I often place another cushion in front of me. Sometimes I place the cushion or a blanket on my lap. Notice how your body feels when you arrange your space. If you close your eyes and listen to your body in harmony with the space around you, what do you notice?
What colors and textures bring softness to your body and mind?
You might start by asking yourself, What vistas allow your mind to relax and wander? Do you love to overlook fields and valleys, rivers and trees, sparkling lights of office towers, or the ebb and flow of ocean waves? Consider these things when selecting colors and textures. If your favorite place is a beach on the Caribbean, then choose colors that remind you of sand, sun, and Caribbean waters. You may put a hammock or a hanging chair in your sanctuary along with a happy light or a full spectrum light box. If you like rivers and trees, you might collect river stones and place them in a bowl and burn candles to represent bonfires. Your colors may be shades of brown and green with touches of grey.
What words and phrases encourage you to explore your beliefs and values?
Surround yourself with words that open your mind to new ideas and possibilities. If you love to read, place books in your sanctuary that encourage thoughtfulness. I am surrounded by books that I can read a paragraph or chapter that will set my mind down new roads of thought. Poets such as Rumi and Mary Oliver. Authors such as Tara Brach, Roland Merullo, and Robert Wright. Be intentional about the words and thoughts that may penetrate or influence your thinking and allow the wisdom of others to invite you to explore new ways of being.
What sounds resonate with you and make your body hum?
I love to meditate with the free app called Insight Timer. This app has a feature making it possible to choose a chime and set it to repeat at designated intervals. I can create a 20-minute meditation with three repeating chimes, each chime, for me, a reminder that I’m meditating. If my mind has been captured by a story, the chime encourages me to return to my breath, and if I’m deeply in the meditation, the chime invites me to sink deeper. Wind chimes have the same effect (if they are the correct tone). When the wind kicks up and activates the gong in the trees at The Butterfly House, I immediately sense my body moving toward the sound. It’s an immediate call to quiet; my body softens and my mind calms. For you, it may be the sounds of the waves and the seagulls or the wind in the trees and bird song. My suggestion is that you choose sounds, or choose music that doesn’t have words or lyrics, and notice how your body and mind responds. Continue to move toward sounds and music that connect you to the energy of the world around you.
What smells bring you comfort and joy?
This can be a tricky one. Do you know that fragrances, all fragrances, including pure essential oils, are hormone disruptors? 70% of synthetic fragrances contain a chemical called phthalates which disrupt the body’s normal hormone function and have been linked to things like birth defects, breast cancer, and obesity. Any label that says “fragrance” is likely to contain phthalates. If you’re reading this and think, “hogwash,” consider this. Most people will agree that lavender helps you relax. Why do you think lavender has that effect on the body? My research indicates that lavender interacts with the neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which regulates anxiety. It has also been proven to be an endocrine disruptor having a mild effect on the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. My advice to you is to choose wisely, do your homework, avoid scented candles, and less is more. Be intentional about the fragrances with which you surround yourself.
There is no “one size fits all” when creating your sanctuary. Consider gently activating all your senses, stimulating your thoughts, and nourishing healthy emotions. So, Let’s recap:
- Know yourself. Create your space in a location where you will use it (a corner of your family room, an empty bedroom away from the rest of the world, or a treehouse in the backyard).
- What elements help you feel safe (a locked door, your back against the wall, a weighted blanket)?
- What colors and textures calm your body and mind?
- What words and phrases motivate you to grow and evolve?
- What sounds activate your parasympathetic nervous system (binaural beats, Marconi Union, Enya)?
- What smells calm you and bring you joy?
If you’re interested in creating your sacred space and would like additional guidance and coaching, we are offering, in our sacred space (The Butterfly House), the workshop, “Creating Your Sacred Space” on March 18th. Click here for more information.
Sending you love and a deep breath!!!
Annamarie Fernyak is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Align LLC based in Mansfield, Ohio. She is a certified life coach, mindfulness meditation teacher, and serial entrepreneur. The development of the MBAwareness Education Program was conceived while Annamarie was volunteering to teach mindfulness in a local middle school and found that the teachers and students were struggling to grow calm for their guest teacher, students seemed unable to pay focused attention, and the teachers were growing frustrated.
Annamarie’s focus was to create a program that would transform the lives of the students. She focused on hiring a licensed teacher to create and instruct the mindfulness-based social and emotional learning curriculums to elementary and secondary school students and teachers. Due to the challenges associated with global health concerns, Annamarie’s mindfulness education program is further now evolving into online mindfulness education focusing on teaching tools that reduce stress and support a life where people can feel more at ease. We also teach as a part of corporate wellness programs.
In 2017, Annamarie launched Align Mindfulness which is a FREE app downloadable from your app store that sends prompts a few times a day, bringing attention to what’s happening in your world. Intentionally simple, these reflections help you build a well-rounded “mindfulness” muscle by offering variety in where you place your awareness.