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 ¶bius 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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