Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sacred Space

Recently I facilitated a group whose task was to think about and discuss sacred space.  I realized late in my preparations that the curriculum I was using suggested that people be given a piece of paper and markers to first draw a picture of their sacred space and then share their drawing with the group.  I chose to ignore this suggestion for two reasons:  1 - I knew these adults would groan and grimace that they were not artists.  I feared all their energy would be put into trying to get the drawing, not necessarily the memory, correct; and 2 - we only had 20 minutes for this activity.  How could we draw and share in that time?

Instead I asked them to close their eyes, take a deep breath or two and think about a space that was sacred to them.  I asked them to sit quietly for a couple minutes and let the memories from this space come to them so they could notice details and feelings about this place.  After the quiet, I asked people to share.

The first person shared that the place they were thinking of no longer existed.  The people who shared the space with him were still around.   Whenever they get together, which is not often, they always speak of that place.  It is an old house they lived in, right above Cannery Row.  The memory holder lamented that the last time he was in that area he could not even find the spot where the house once stood, but the memories were as clear as if they we yesterday's events.  As he spoke, his face softened, the color of his eyes deepened, and his voice became more melodic.  Wow - I wished I had been a part of that.  He didn't share any of the events that he remembered, just that it was in that space that so many important and transcendent experiences had come to him.

Another person shared that her sacred space was a childhood home and the spaces were ones that she, her siblings and neighbor friends explored.  They often went to the forbidden river and swam or waded, careful to remove any articles of clothing that might get wet and tattle on them.  Again, not much was said about the topography, other than there was a river, or the natural beauty, but rather the feelings and emotions that were still carried from those days so long past.

Others shared stories of places where families gathered and celebrated holidays - family homes, vacation spots, first solo explorations.  The common thread that held all these stories together were the emotions and feelings that they stirred within us all.  No one said the places they remembered as sacred spaces were the most beautiful or awe inspiring places they'd been.  I found this intriguing and interesting.

In the next days I began asking people I happened to be meeting with what place came to mind for them when I said "sacred space?"  No one, not one of the roughly twenty, responded with a place of religious or natural significance.  All had to do with a memory that was associated with the experience in the place they recalled.  First homes, grandma's house, their vegetable garden, their child's room at bedtime, a concert parent's saved money to buy tickets for, a cemetery -  it was an interesting mix.

This exercise has made me consider, or perhaps, re-consider what sacred space means.  Based on all the responses, I am aware that at any random moment, we may be contributing something to a place or event that will be imprinted in someone's memory as sacred.  What a beautiful thought.  I suppose we need to say that we also should be aware that we may also, at any and every moment, be contributing in a negative way to those memories.

So, this new awareness, that sacred space is more a memory, a feeling, or emotions than a physical place has made me stop and take stock of how I am interacting with people.  I do not believe that solely my behavior will define one's experiences, but I do think that I have an opportunity to contribute in ways I may not even be aware of.  It reminds me to make sure that I am always being the most genuine and authentic person I can be - sad when sadness is about me, warm when connections dictate, goofy and funny when the spirit moves, patient when time is needed, persuasive when a timid soul needs a nudge,  but always - me.

Think about your sacred spaces, close your eyes, take a deep breath or two and think about a space that is sacred to you.  Sit quietly for a couple minutes and let the memories from this space come to you.  Notice details and feelings about this place.  Now, share - write them down, pick up the phone, or plan a road trip.  More sacred space is waiting to be discovered or remembered.