A Sanctuary

As a result of my recent marriage I’ve moved to a new location. This has meant, first and foremost, going through the ten years of stuff I accumulated at my last place — ten years of my life, in photographs, books, papers, art and paraphernalia from my kids (who were 10 and 7 when I moved in, 20 and 17 when I moved out), and more, a whole host of possessions, memorabilia, and knick-knacks that needed sorting and most often disposal. It seems every time I turned to pack another box another set of memories would arise, and I realized that what I was doing was the official work of paring down my past to its essentials. What’s worth bringing forward? What’s not?

I have to tell you I am an inveterate pack rat, physically and mentally. The trash disposal bin at my old apartment was a long walk up the parking lot, and I feel like I both lost some weight and grew stronger making trip after trip getting rid of things. The closer I got to my move date, the more stuff I found myself tossing out, the more memories I decided were not worth dragging along. And something else came forward, too, which was how much I loved this place — my apartment on Lake Sammamish — the water and docks only fifty feet or so from my front glass doors. It had been my sanctuary since 1999, the first and only apartment I looked at during the messy last days of a previous marriage breaking down. It was the place I went to escape the emotional turmoil and to recover my life. It might not have meant any more than a lovely shelter to someone else, but to me it symbolized everything that I needed at that moment: quiet, distance, beauty, and independence, my own choices — a chance to carve out my destiny in a different way. One memory is simply that after moving in I felt I could sleep again, just sleep. Ten and a half years later, the day before I moved out, a river otter swam playfully under the docks, effortlessly mounting one, sniffing around. She might as well have turned and waved goodbye. While I watched she slid again into the water and was gone without so much as a ripple.

A sanctuary. Have you ever had one? It seems to me that our lives are such that sanctuaries are absolutely necessary and in our busy-ness less available than ever. I know some people find their privacy in running or bicycling or some other physical activity. Some find it in yoga. Some in reading. But for me, it will always be a place, real or imagined, an essential place where I am returned to me, even for a short time. In my sanctuary time actually derails a little, and I experience the inner wealth of having absolutely nothing at all — to manage, own, or hang onto, not even an idea.

I cannot imagine my own generative work, or the work of any leader for that matter, as occurring without the counter-balance of a sanctuary. Meaningful work must be infused with the properties of the spirit, and how can these properties arise without the rich gifts that come from time alone in one’s own place? They say a Hawaiian quilter will sleep a night in each quilt before giving it away in order for the recipient to go with the love infused in the creation. In just this same way, a sanctuary imbues us with the intangible forms of our own restoration.

The word, sanctuary, by the way, comes from the innermost and holiest parts of a church, and also the place (in a church) where a fugitive might go to be immune from arrest. Well, so be it. In this life we are all fugitives in one way or another. We are all, at least, escapees from the chains (and possessions) of the past; the chains (and possessions) of our own creation. We are all “subject to arrest” by our lives in the world. And therefore, we also need our sanctuaries.

The new place Carmen and I have moved into is beautiful. It, too, is close to the water, with three floors and three views of lake, mountains, and city at different heights. A different lake, Washington rather than Sammamish, and a new direction. We face west now, not east, as our separate apartments did before. So now I find myself watching the moon and sun set rather than watching them rise. The reflected light of the winter sun draws moving figures all afternoon on the white ceilings of our new home.

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11 Comments

  • What's your new sanctuary like. I am sure there will always be good cooking around the corner, some fine wine, and a song or poem or two. Wishing you well my friend.

  • You can see a bit of our new place in the photo, Mike. You might not have noticed it but you can also see a sailboat parked in the lake across the street. My office is on the first floor and right now Carmen's cat, Diego, is perched in his bed next to my desk, watching the traffic and waiting for the chickadees to show up in the bushes just outside the window. I'm still putting up my bookcases and trying to find a place for the guitars…Wishing you well, too, Mike.

  • did you guys buy a place or did you find a nice place to lease. Sounds wonderful. I am really happy for you.

  • Thanks, Mike. We're still leasing but on the hunt for something more permanent in the next year or two.

  • congrats! let's connect soon.

  • Dick Richards wrote:

    Nice Dan. The boxes remind me of many times in this “fugitive” life. It is important for me to remember that my sanctuary is within. Certain places or even activities call it forth, make it easier to access, but it is always with me.

  • Thank you, Dick. I’m with you on the location: within but called forth. I understand that Parker Palmer used to say that our first task in early life is to connect outside of ourselves. Then later in life we need to learn to connect to what is within. Finally, it all just becomes a Möbius strip. That’s what sanctuary is like for me. It goes both ways in an endless loop.

  • Dan: great to see another blog post, at long last! I’m happy to see a little of your new home, and hope it will prove to be another place of shelter and refuge for you.

    I, too, have noticed how the closer I approach to the end of a relationship – with a house, a job, or a person (or community of people) – the more keenly I appreciate it.

    Your observation about sanctuaries being places we are not “subject to arrest” got me thinking about a post I read recently at Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s new blog, about inner fundamentalism, and how we often cling so tightly to certain [fundamental] beliefs. I found her conclusion rather jarring:

    Because of all the wonderful things life is, safe is not one of them, and at the root of any fundamentalism is anxiety- sometimes terror- about the wild and woolly risk of living fully, knowing that difficult things can and will happen.

    So I’m wondering if “sanctuary” is just as much of an illusion as our (or my) self-imposed limitations (or my subjection / subjugation of my self to “arrest”). I hope this doesn’t dampen your house-warming process, this is just stuff that’s coming up for me recently … and as so often happens, your blog posts provide a relatively safe place – a virtual sanctuary of sorts (however illusory) – for me to delve into some shadow areas.

  • Yes, Joe, and I think that’s just the point. A virtual sanctuary, however subjective and however illusory, is still, I believe, necessary — or at the very least, a beautiful potential that we need not live without. That life is “wild and wooly” is exactly true and therefore whatever relief we can find in the moments we create for ourselves — ones stimulated by certain surroundings or rituals — help us deal constructively and generatively with the demands that are placed upon us. I think of the Japanese tea ceremony, for example. D.T. Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Culture describes a sensibility and a shift in attention that comes with appreciation, the movement from the daily turmoil to the sound of rain dripping from the eves. It is this shift, perhaps, that creates a sense of sanctuary, and why should that be so unless we have a certain need for it? Maybe this is all I mean to say — that sometimes a place or event causes us to slow down to the level of appreciation and in that there is a subtle and restorative medicine to help us through the daily anxieties that are so common to life.

  • Congratultions on your new move, and new marriage. We are now fond of western views, too.

  • Thanks, Tom! Hope all is well with you.

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