Weary warrior in front of a night sky, with a tiny bird landing on her outstretched finger.

Sanctuary

When the world seems to be coming apart, when all the news makes us cry, when it just seems too horrible for words, we all need a place of Sanctuary.

I’m not talking about a physical place we can go to escape, although that’s nice if you happen to have one.

But we can all do some work to give ourselves a place to regroup, internally. It’s not perfect, and it won’t magically make everything alright, but it’s worth doing.

Here are some steps you might want to consider, if you’d like to build a place where you can go to weather the storm.

1. Do Not Despair

I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s of paramount importance. Despair is tempting, but it saps your strength, breaks your will, and destroys your spirit. Fight it.

Like other negative emotions, it’s a signal that there’s something deeply, deeply wrong.

The thing is, despair never rights that wrong. Despair gives up. It’s tempting, because it means you can stop fighting for a bit, and we all get so tired that we just want to stop fighting.

Instead of despairing, just stop fighting for a while. Give yourself a breather. That’s perfectly alright, in fact, pretty much necessary. Take an intentional break. All soldiers need a bit of R&R from time to time, so don’t feel you’re not entitled to some. Take whatever time you need.

But while you’re doing that, hold in your mind that others are still fighting, and you’ll fight again a different day, or perhaps a different battle.

The arc of history is long, and sometimes it really is 3 steps forwards, and 2 back; but that’s still progress, and it does bend toward justice.

There will be light after the storm. The dawn will eventually follow the night. This, too, shall pass.

Do not despair.

2. Notice the Good Stuff

When things get really bad, it’s easy to overlook the small, wonderful things that are happening all around us. There’s a tendency to think that, for instance, who cares if it’s a beautiful day when people are dying?

But we need to notice the sunshine and flowers, as well as the horrible things. That will help keep us balanced.

Yes, a lot of bad things are happening. There’s cancer, and racial and political bias that’s turning deadly, and global problems that seem overwhelming.

But there are also children taking their first steps, and kids making gifts for homeless people, and people helping other people in ways large and small, every day.

Make a point of noticing all of those things, too. it gives you a more balanced view of the rich cacophony that is the world, and it really helps.

3. Turn off the Media, and Get Crafting

Once again, this sounds corny, but it’s true. Taking a media break, and making something with your hands instead can help you regain an even keel.

There have been a number of studies that have shown a correlation between crafting and happiness.

I’ve found this to be very true in my own life. When I carve out time to sew, knit, or do one of the other physical, hands on crafts, I’m calmer, more relaxed, and happier.

It’s not just being creative; all I do is creative stuff (and occasionally housework.) But there’s a difference between writing, or working with 3D apps on the computer, and actually handling beautiful fiber and fabrics.

When I’m touching real materials, I can lose myself in the color and texture, and the meditative, repetitive, sensory-rich experience. It’s healing.

If you don’t craft, you might want to try it.

4. Spend Time with Friends

Too many of us are too isolated, too much of the time. Try to arrange some time socializing with people you enjoy. Don’t talk about the things that are bothering you, if you can help it. That can be valuable, too, but it can also just make things worse, by focusing on all the bad stuff.

Instead, spend time doing things that make you laugh. Tell bad jokes, dance, play games, eat good food, celebrate the fact that you are alive, because you are, even if you’re not always sure of that.

Share the good things that are happening to you, or the good things you’d like to have happen. Focus on the present moment, and how great it is to be together.

Life can be sweet. Enjoy it.

5. Do Small, Unexpected Things for Other People.

One of the things that I found long ago will send me “spiraling down the funnel” is thinking too much about myself, and my own perceived inadequacies. My helplessness in the face of global unrest. My inability to do anything to “make it all better” when someone I love is hurting. My powerlessness to stop pain.

Especially when a group I’m a member of is the target, when I feel that everyone wants me to just cease to exist, it’s very easy to slide down into despair.

I learned that when I’m feeling that way, the quickest way out is to stop looking inward, turn around, and look outward instead.

Don’t focus on my own ineffectiveness, or indeed on my own anything. Just ignore all of that. It’s not about me. Even when my group is the target, the person saying that we don’t deserve to live isn’t saying that about me personally. They don’t even know I exist. They are simply venting their spleen, and announcing to the world their own fears and perceived inferiority.

People who are happy and comfortable with themselves don’t pick on others. People who aren’t afraid of “others” don’t need to make sure “others” are kept far away.

So, turn your focus outwards. You can’t fix the problems of the world; no one of us can, although together we just might be able to. But don’t worry about you, and don’t worry about the world. It’s too big. We can’t grasp it.

Instead, just do something you can do, to brighten a few moments for one other person.

You’ve been crafting. Give someone a pair of mitts when they’re not expecting it. Slip a flower onto a co-worker’s desk. Smile at people you meet on the street. Tell the teller in the bank you appreciate her hard work. Offer to help, when you see someone who might need a little help.

It really takes very little to brighten someone else’s day, and it makes you both feel better. The more of this you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more ripples of kindness you’ll send out into the world.

The more people who do this, the more the kindness and love will combat the hate and fear. This is how we’ll win, eventually.

6. Meditate

You probably already know this, but meditation can help with all kinds of conditions, from stress reduction to alleviation of pain (both physical and mental,) to helping chronic medical conditions.

If you’ve never tried it, you might not realize how very simple it actually is. Forget about being perfect, and it’s something that anyone at all, anywhere, can do. Even those of us who aren’t physically able can manage this one.

There are tons of different kinds (even knitting can be meditation, really) so find the ones you enjoy the most.

Your mind will wander, because it’s a mind, and that’s what minds do. So when you realize it’s doing it, just smile at it, and start again. No judgement, no harshness, no upbraiding yourself for not “doing it right.” There is no “doing it right,” so you’re doing fine.

The link above is to a page on the Mayo Clinic site that lists a number of types and methods of meditation, or you can just google around, and find some to try.

It helps.

Do these things, and you’ll find that you have inside yourself a sanctuary that will shelter you from the worst of what’s happening in this time of change and upheaval. Because of course, that’s what’s going on in the world right now. We’re simply living in a time of rapid change, and rapid change is often very uncomfortable.

Every bit of work we do to promote equality also erodes privilege; it pretty much has to.

To those of us who enjoyed that privilege and didn’t recognize it as privilege, this can feel like oppression. Things that we’ve always taken for granted, as just the way the world works, aren’t working that way any more. This is unexpected, and the unexpected is frightening. To those of us in this position, the world is spiraling out of control. Those of us who feel this way want to put on the brakes, to stop the change, and so we lash out. It’s a perfectly natural, understandable reaction.

It won’t stop the change, because the change is needed.

People will eventually adjust, and come to embrace equality.

But it’s going to be a struggle, I’m afraid.

It’s very important that we all find sanctuary and balance, no matter which side of the struggle we’re on.

It will enable us to approach things calmly, without fear. Which will, of course, make the whole thing much less painful for everyone.


Picture Attribution; This is a detail of an image I made in 2002. The whole image is in the Prints part of this site.

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