The Importance of Sanctuaries

By Dan Tricarico, Author of The Zen Teacher

Where is that place you go to heal, to renew your spirit, to lick your wounds when life has been less than kind?  How do you go about creating that feeling of wholeness, erasing the overwhelming notion that The Universe is out to get you, and cultivating the sense that, at the end of the day, things will ultimately turn out all right?

In other words, where is your sanctuary?

Merriam-Webster says a sanctuary is a place where “someone or something is protected or given shelter.” That shelter might be literal and so the sanctuary might be a building or place–a church, for example, or a park, or a mountaintop, or the ocean, or your house, or sometimes even the classroom where you work.

But it might also be figurative, a protection against someone else’s rage or abuse or a shelter against an overwhelming personal sense of sadness, frustration, or fatigue.  In that case, perhaps, your sanctuary is a state of mind that arises from experiences you have–praying, listening to music, or spending time with loved ones.

Given the stressors of modern American education, it is crucial that we, especially as educators, have a place to retreat to where we access and develop that sense of calm and equanimity that allows us to regroup and come back to our work-a-day lives refreshed and ready to go another round with the challenges life throws at us.

As author of The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom, I’ve made it part of my mission to ensure that people in all walks of education are taking care of themselves so that they can not only survive, but thrive in the classroom. My goal is to make certain educators are creating the conditions where their mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and rejuvenation is valued and looked after, so that we all make it through to retirement or whatever our life may hold after we leave our schools and classrooms.

Years ago I read a book called The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer and it changed the focus of my entire career. Palmer gave me permission to teach who I am and to see teaching as a path and a struggle and a grand experiment that won’t always go perfectly but, if my heart and mind are in the right place, will always make a difference for my students who, like us, exist in a largely indifferent world. In short, he helped me turn my classroom into one of my sanctuaries.

Palmer, who is now a columnist for a site called On Being, recently wrote a post discussing the importance of sanctuaries. True to Palmer’s form, the entire column was inspiring, but the following quote resonated with me particularly deeply:

 

“Today. . .in a world that’s both astonishingly beautiful and horrifically cruel, “sanctuary” is as vital as breathing to me. Sometimes I find it in churches, monasteries, and other sites designated as sacred. But more often I find it in places sacred to my soul: in the natural world, in the company of a trustworthy friend, in solitary or shared silence, in the ambience of a good poem or good music.”

 

What Palmer tells us here is that what matters most is not what or where our sanctuary is, but that we have one. It is our own realization that we have a sanctuary and how it helps us create a sense of focus, simplicity, and tranquility that ultimately saves us.  Our sanctuary becomes a safe haven when life confounds, a sacred space where we can find stillness, silence, peace, and contentedness when we are pushed to our limits.

The truth is: Life is too difficult, too challenging, too full of pain and grief and violence to not find a place where we can rest and heal and grow. We so often need a respite from the world where we can find a way to deal with the chaos and confusion. All of us will face troubled times, so it is imperative that we find a place of protection so that these troubled times do not consume us. We are too important, too special, too loved– even if we think otherwise–for that to ever happen.

So if you look around and don’t see a place or a situation where you feel safe and secure and can wrap a blanket of security, warmth, and love around you, either make it a priority to find one or ask for help from someone you trust because everyone needs—in fact, everyone  deserves–a sanctuary.

Where will you find yours?