'San(k)-che-wer-e n, 1) a consecrated place, 2) a place
of refuge and protection. On the north door of Durham Cathedral in
England, a lion-headed doorknocker once offered a priceless gift for
fugitives: sanctuary. In the Middle Ages, grasping that ring was the
admission ticket to refuge. No pursuit, no trouble or threat could
claim those who appealed for sanctuary. We are all fugitives of one
kind, from headaches, traffic, bills, and the various stresses and
complications of the modern world. We all need a place of sanctuary,
a center of calm.
Ideally, our home should be that refuge. The key turning
in that front door lock should open a haven for us. Does it? Can
you take your shoes
off, settle into a comfortable chair, and feel truly relaxed and peaceful?
Or are you perhaps greeted by your roommate’s laundry strewn
on that chair, a heap of unwashed dishes in the sink, or the remnants
of the dog’s self-designated chew-toy du jour scattered on the
You don’t have to book a flight to a deserted island to find
your escape; you simply need to carve out your own personal sanctuary
within your living space. Some might have the luxury of a spare room,
but most of us will need to make do with a smaller area. The corner
of a bedroom can be appropriated, or a nook in the kitchen, or even
the closet in a home office. All you really need is a place with
room for seating and a small table (to hold candles, incense, books
or flowers), and an ability to shut the door on the rest of the household
for half an hour.
Creating Your Sanctuary
Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure
the senses but the soul,” Oscar Wilde declared. Creating a sanctuary
to soothe all your senses will allow you to find that elusive repose
of the soul.
Sight is the sense we most heavily rely upon, and color is the aspect
of sight we notice first. Think of a favorite color, one that makes
you smile when you see it. Look through your wardrobe for clues,
focusing on accessories (scarves, neckties) rather than staples that
may run to “safe” basics, like black or khaki. If khaki
thrills you, fine, but consider hues of apricot, honeydew, periwinkle,
or crimson. To apply that color to your sanctuary, you may wish to
buy a quart of paint and cover a wall. Don’t like painting?
Take a bolt of cloth and a staple-gun and tent the walls of a small
room. If that seems too ambitious, hang a mosquito net in a corner
for an exotic pavilion, and load the floor with cushions. You can
also use your chosen color in small quantities. Look for a vase,
candles, or artwork in that hue, and layer those pieces in your private
retreat. Find a half-price remnant of silk at a fabric store and
use it to cover a flea-market footstool. If you cannot find a single
spot for a sanctuary in your tiny apartment, take over the bathtub,
and hang a translucent shower curtain in a beautiful shade of blue
to cocoon around you.
Another important aspect of sight is the view from your sanctuary.
Shield yourself from the sight of anything that might cause you stress.
If your sanctuary is in your office, put up a folding screen or a row
of potted palms to shut out the view of unpaid bills and the to-do
list on your whiteboard. If there is a window, a sheer curtain can
allow light in while keeping out an unsightly view.
Sound is a delightful aspect to bring to your sanctuary; one of the
most soothing sounds is flowing water, and wall-mounted or table-top
fountains are readily available. You might also consider pebble chimes
or recorded music. Again, personalizing your retreat is paramount.
You know that CD you own that makes all the knots in your shoulders
start to melt as soon as you put it on? No? Then stop by your local
music store, plug into a listening station, and find something utterly
relaxing. It might be Celtic harp, vintage jazz, or piano sonatas.
Nature recordings can be an especially welcome sound for the city-bound.
Once back in your own haven, if you find construction noise or shrieking
neighbors intruding upon your auditory bliss, try headphones.
The benefits of aromatherapy have been widely touted in recent years.
Smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. A whiff of sweet
alyssum, of hot pavement, of damp earth, or of your grandpa’s
brand of aftershave can instantly transport you back to childhood.
Choose your sanctuary scents to suit your mood. In general, citrus
scents are vitalizing, while lavender and other florals are relaxing.
However, you should explore to find what scents are pleasing and
soothing to you. A caveat: with scented items, you get what you pay
for. A 50-cent jasmine-scented votive candle will almost certainly
not have the beauty and delicacy of the two-dollar jasmine-rose-patchouli
blend. Cheap potpourris or incense can smell cloying and give you
a headache. With fragrance, be willing to splurge a little.
Some people are more tactile than others. Take a walk through a home
furnishings store. Do you feel the urge to run your fingers through
the sheepskin rugs, to toy with tassels and poke at pillows? If so,
then you should pay particular attention to this aspect of your sanctuary.
You can do this with an elaborate gesture, such as a velvet loveseat
with a mohair throw. You can also collect small items that are pleasant
to hold and touch: a smooth, tumbled river rock, a swan’s-down
powder puff, a slinky.
And taste? This is a little extra, not essential, but delightful. Create
a little treat box for yourself and include your favorite delicacies:
dark Swiss chocolate, tangerine napoleons, Cracker Jack, Atomic Fireballs,
whatever delights the kid or the connoisseur in you. If health concerns
make sweets out the question, indulge in a flavored mineral water,
or a cup of tea in a beautiful cup reserved for your sanctuary alone.
One warning: if you find yourself reaching for cigarettes and alcohol
to relax, keep them out of your sanctuary. Lacking those comfort
crutches, you may feel a nervous void. That void is simply a cup
awaiting something more nourishing to fill your soul.
Whether your sanctuary is a sparse Zen-zone or an eccentric gallery
of odds and ends, it will be uniquely yours. Giving yourself the
gift of a little time, space, peace and privacy is perhaps one of
the best gifts you can give those around you. When you feel tension
mounting, you can immerse yourself in sensory bliss, allowing your
soul a chance to mend, returning to the crush and clatter of the
world with inner poise and grace. With a place of retreat in the
heart of your home, you can reap the benefits of serenity, sanity,
and good will to all.