What makes a space sacred?

I'm writing this in a coffee shop where I am working across the table from a good friend. We were talking about sacred space and she said, "this is a sacred space."  And it is, in the sense, that when we are together we hold space for each other to show up truthfully, openly and without judgment. There is both safety (security) and support (belonging) and those things are important in creating a sacred space.

Is it a sacred space? It may be.

When I leave this meeting I am heading to another meeting. This one is at a place called ThinkSpot. It is at a meeting place, a gathering place, that has been created to help people connect with each other through the intentional design of the physical space as well as the attention that is given to how people interact there. 

Is it a sacred space? It may be. 

We need to define the word sacred as our starting point. According to the Cambridge Dictionary the word sacred means: something that is holy and deserving of respect. It may be connected to religion and it can be something that we value too much to change (as in my routine is sacred to me).  I think we can find clues to what we mean when we describe something as sacred in that definition.

When I define sacred space I like to use the word 'encounter'. A sacred space is a place of encounter. In it you are able to encounter that which is sacred to you in a way that is meaningful to you. It may be connected to religion. It will definitely be something that is deserving of respect. It is why people often encounter sacred spaces in nature. 

Author Margaret Silf writes, "For the Celts there was never any shadow of doubt that these two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, were one. . . . The invisible was separated from our sense perceptions only by the permeable membrane of consciousness. Sometimes that membrance could seem as solid as a brick wall. Sometimes it could seem very thin. Indeed, we speak, even today, of some places as being thin places, meaning that the presence of the invisible and the spiritual in those places is almost palpable." (p.13, Sacred Spaces)

There are times when we recognize after the fact that we were in a sacred space. There are times when we can be in what at one point had felt like a sacred space and not have any sense of encounter there. It is like what was once available to us in that space is no longer there. We can feel disappointed and sad when that happens.

There are times when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a thin place. We are aware that there is a connection to something bigger than what we see on the surface. It may be a coffee shop. It may be a gathering place. It may be a forest. But we have that sense that there is something more, a connection has been made and in this moment we feel held, connected and seen. We have encountered ourselves and the Other. 

Tending the Fire

  • When have you experienced 'sacred spaces' in your life?
  • What was different about the experience that made it feel like a sacred space?
  • Do you think you can replicate that experience?
  • Would you want to replicate it or do you prefer to just let these things unfold?

 

 

Spaces are not neutral - some are sacred.

This weekend I was visiting a website and one of those annoying-but-effective pop-ups opened. It read, "Your inbox is a sacred space."  Of course, the intent was that they would honour my inbox, my sacred space, by only sending me valuable content. My reaction was:

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I guess I could be grateful that the idea of sacred space has become so mainstream that websites that have nothing to do with the sacred or spiritual are now using the phrase. I didn't. I felt that the sacred was cheapened when I saw that pop-up.  I am grateful that it prompted me to spend some time this week writing about sacred spaces - what they are, what they are not, where to find them and why they are important!

For the next five days, I'll be writing about sacred spaces. Here's where we are going:

Day One:  Spaces are not neutral - explore your own thoughts and experiences of sacred spaces.

Day Two:  What makes a space sacred? 

Day Three: How do you find a sacred space?

Day Four: Ideas for creating sacred spaces in your home.

Day Five: Cultivating spiritual practices to help you experience the sacred in spaces.

 

Day One: Spaces are not neutral

Have you ever had the experience in a space where you felt like there was something deeper at work in that physical environment? Maybe you've experienced it when you have been out in the woods or sat by the ocean. Or maybe you've experienced it when you entered someone's home or a place of worship. Maybe you've experienced it in a cemetery or perhaps it was in the middle of a very loud and busy coffee shop. I'm guessing you haven't experienced it when you look at your inbox.  

Whenever and wherever you've experienced it - I'm sure you know what I am talking about. Spaces are not neutral. Space and place have a big impact on us. Take some today with the questions below to pull on your own insight. I'll give you my perspective the rest of the week!

Tending the Fire

Think about the idea of a sacred space - don't read anything or get anyone else's thoughts right now. I want you to approach this topic intuitively. Listening to your own experience and deep wisdom.  Sit with the phrase sacred space.

Consider these questions: 

  • How do you define 'sacred'?
  • What is the difference (is there one?) between space and place?
  • What makes a space feel sacred?
  • Have you ever felt a place was sacred?
  • What were some of the qualities or characteristics of that space and experience? 

I wish I could hear your answers! If you feel like emailing them to me I would love to read them. Tomorrow we will continue on this topic. Pay attention today and see what comes up for you in the spaces and places you inhabit.

Are you keeping the fire?

My word for 2018 is reclaiming. It reflects my desire to live out of the truth of all I am. My challenge has always been, like many women, I am high in the personality trait of agreeableness. We are great at building relationships and bringing people together. The downside is that we can lose what is important to us over time. We become very good at defering to others because we value harmony. If you have ever said, "I'm good with what everyone else wants to do",  you are being agreeable.

Over the past decade, I have been reclaiming the part of me that loves being outdoors. I have great memories of being outdoors when I was growing up. It was normal for kids to be outside playing and I spent a lot of time at the nearby creek. My family camped. We frequently went for picnics at conservation parks. During my adult years I spent more and more time in the city and less time in the woods. Time in nature became an event.

At this stage of life I find myself drawn more and more to experiencing life outdoors. When I am in the woods I feel most at peace and most alive. I fantasize about living in a cabin in the woods (if everyone would agree to it!).

As happy as I feel in the woods, I also am aware that I am lacking skills that will help increase my comfort and confidence levels and allow me to explore more. So I looked for an adult education program and signed up. A few weeks ago I participated in the first weekend of a six month wilderness training program .

One of the most powerful experiences of the weekend happened on our final day. After we had a brief introduction to fire making, we were sent solo into the woods to build and start a fire and then tend it while we had our lunch and reflected on all we had learned on the weekend. I was very anxious about starting a fire. As it turns out, starting the fire and tending the fire were two different skills. But since there were matches at our disposal the fire starting wasn't too difficult.

It's a long story so reach out to me if you want the details and I'll tell you all I learned. Suffice it to say, it was deeply profound for me. And although I was very moved at the time, I didn't expect it to stay with me and continue to surface over the last few weeks. Don't you just love when that happens?

As I work with women, I see the metaphor as firekeepers and tending the fire as being highly relevant. I am reading a book about Life Stages and Native Women (see below (#book) ). The author mentions Scots-Métis author Amelia Paget, "She writes about how difficult it was to start a fire by friction or by flint stone, and pointed out, 'as the Indians had such difficulty in starting a fire, to the older and more responsible women would be entrusted the task of keeping it alight. And when moving from one place to another these old women would carry a lighted torch of wood, always watching to see that the spark did not die out'."

I love the idea of being a firekeeper or fire-tender. It is a metaphor for the lives of women. As we progress through life we put a lot of energy into where we are building our fires and getting them started. But the real work is keeping them going. There is a tending that we need to do. We need to keep the fire going for ourselves as well as for our families and communities.

If you are struggling with keeping a flame going in your life, reach out to me. We can schedule a session to talk about how you can tend it.  

Recommended:

I just discovered Life Stages and Native Women at my local library. I've been enjoying reading about the wisdom of women that is passed down through the generations. I decided to take the plunge and order a copy of it. It was written by a Cree/Métis educator living in Guelph Ontario. It focuses on the stages of a woman's life and how First Nation's peoples understood and valued these stages as a contribution to healthy community. Click on the cover to order.

Note: I am an Amazon Associate so I receive a small fee for any books purchased through my posts. You don't incur any additional charges.

Kindling:

  • When you read this post did you think of any areas in your life that you have neglected or drifted away from?
  • What do you dream of doing that doesn't seem possible in your life right now?
  • Do you resonate with being a 'firekeeper'?
  • What are some of your values you would like to pass on to future generations?