Why you need a sacred space

I never really understood the big deal behind sacred space. When I did my yoga training, the teacher recommended we each build personal alters. I dutifully searched the internet to find examples of what mine should look like, completely missing the point. Flummoxed, I never did it. Even if I had built one, then what? The truth of the matter was, I had no idea what to do with an alter or how to create a sacred space. Then I got cancer.

It’s interesting who you turn to and what you do when your head is spinning and you need something solid to hold onto. Me, I turned to the most capable person I know, someone I trusted and knew I could rely on. I turned to me. And what I needed at that point to be able to function was to clear my head. I needed a sacred space. So, I built an alter.

An alter need not be fancy, or perfect. Mine is a low table, like for eating breakfast in bed. It sits on the floor in front of the picture window in our yoga room so I can sit cross-legged in front of it and enjoy the outdoors. The birds flit around the plants outside that window, and there is a hawk that uses the light pole as a lookout for his next move. It is an actively serene spot, one where life happens right outside and I can be an unobtrusive observer. It mimics what happens during meditation.

My altar-top is garnished with special objects that encourage feelings of comfort and safety. The unity candle from my wedding (what better day will there ever be than the day I said “I do” to my angel, Ken), a photo of my father and I, photos of Ken and I taken in a photo booth while we were dating, and a shallow bowl of stones I have collected from beaches and riverbanks with a beeswax tealight set in the center. When I sit with these items, the flame of the candle flickering over them, I am taken back to a simpler time, purer time, before-cancer time.

I meditate in front of my alter. It holds an energy that warms my body and connects me to the universe in ways that other places do not, can not. I don’t know the science behind it, nor do I care. There was a time when I would have analyzed the heck out of it, the psychology and physiology of it, but in reality the power of the mind, body and spirit combined transcend what we understand about ourselves at this stage of our existence, and so some things I just accept as knowing. I don’t need to go on faith on this one. I need only meditate in the glow of the candlelight.

In reality, we are our own sacred space. Even if we don’t feel like we are, deep down inside is still that kernel of untouchable truth, the divinity within each of us. I realized early on that my job was to nurture and grow that small, neglected part of myself; to fan the small ember to a roaring flame that can withstand the howling winds of life.

As I grow stronger, with cancer treatment behind me and the day-to-day business of living at hand, it is becoming all too easy to neglect my tiny altar. Truth be told, I need more, a larger space to call my own, a place where my inner flame can explore at will. And so I am creating a new sacred space, a place where I can write, paint, think, be. In it I am surrounding myself with objects that have influenced my life and nurtured my soul. It is a combination of the ordered structure of office and the chaotic melee of creativity. It is me.

I still have my tiny altar as well. It is where I dig deep, connect to the elusive inner me that often scuttles ahead of my understanding in an esoteric game of cat-and-mouse. I think it is time to change out some of the objects, or add others to the clutter. Maybe the new photo booth strip taken during chemotherapy? My bald head glowing like the alien girl in the movie, Cocoon. Those were special times. Sometimes, all it takes is a quiet moment of reflection with a favorite photo to realize that. One day, today will be one of those special times, a memory I look back upon with fondness. Why wait? I think I will start relishing this moment today.

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