We all know that when we feel hungry, we are hungry, and if we eat, then we will feel satisfied. The feeling of hunger is a kind undeniable truth. All of the feelings of the body are that way. If we want to know some undeniable truths, we can easily look to the feelings of the body.
I bring this up because it is easy to get stuck in concepts and ideas, and forget about our bodies and our experiences. We can easily become entranced by words and ideas that are not connected to our experiences. We may think, for example, “I am not a homeless person. I am different than a homeless person.” When that is the concept in our minds, it prevents us from recognizing that we might know something about what it feels like not to have somewhere safe to sleep. But we can directly know that feeling, because in our bodies, we all feel hungry, and tired, and unsafe sometimes. In the true feelings of the body, all of us all have similar experiences, along a spectrum of intensity. When we pay attention to our experiences, we can come to know each other in a closer, more intimate way.
So when you start thinking about what the word sanctuary means, I invite you to consider it from a feeling perspective. What does sanctuary feel like in your body?
When we consider what sanctuary feels like to us in our bodies, we may breathe a sigh of relief, feeling safe. With that safe feeling in our bodies, we may develop compassion for those who do not have sanctuary, and do not feel safe. We also know what it feels like not to have sanctuary, to feel uncomfortable in our environment, desiring safety. Knowing what it feels like not to have sanctuary, we can empathize with those who cannot find it as easily.
We can also recognize that a person who lives in a house but never stops moving, never stops thinking, never stops doing and worrying and hurrying, may not often feel the feeling of sanctuary, even when it is there for them, readily available. A person with all of their material needs met may still not feel sanctuary because of an abusive relationship, or an abusive society. In contrast, a person who does not live in a house or have any wealth at all may more easily feel the feeling of sanctuary because they have more time and space to stop and appreciate a moment of safety when it comes.
In Middleway Method, our practice is to do things for ourselves and for others that create that feeling of sanctuary, a sigh of relief when we can settle down and rest. The feeling of sanctuary can be just one moment long, one breath, and in that one breath, our bodies can drop out of the stress state and into a rest state. If our lives do not have many moments of sanctuary in them, then our bodies will stay stressed out. When our bodies stay stressed out for long periods of time, they become unhealthy. Cultivating sanctuary is an essential wellness practice that directly improves mental and physical health. It improves our immune systems and our cardiovascular health. It reduces inflammation and speeds up healing. It improves digestion, assimilation, and metabolism.
All of the other Middleway Method practices depend on sanctuary. Without sanctuary, while our bodies are in a fight-or-flight state, and it is more difficult to sleep; the water that we drink is used for inflammation and increasing blood pressure; the food that we eat is more likely to be poorly digested; we are less likely to exercise because when we are in the fight-or-flight state we often feel too unsettled to make the time for a genuine exercise practice. When we do not have sanctuary, our unhealthy bodies need more medicine, and that medicine is often used to mask the symptoms of a life without rest, without healing, without safety.
But with a feeling of sanctuary, all of our wellness practices become more pleasant, more nourishing, and more beneficial. That’s why we start the Preliminary Practices by creating sanctuary for ourselves. Then, we make it our Life’s Work to help others create sanctuary in their lives.
Five Minutes to Yourself
The first sanctuary practice is to set aside five minutes to yourself every day. No phone. No computer. No other people or pets. No tasks. No activities. And no excuses. Just five minutes to relax, rest, and pay attention to your body.
How you feel in your body is always true. Paying attention to your body, you have access to that wellspring of undeniable truths that is within you. Sanctuary is a feeling of trust, and we can trust our bodies to always tell the truth. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is always true.
First, you have to set aside the time to do the sanctuary practice, every day. And in the process of figuring out how to do that, you can learn a lot about yourself and your environment. While it is only five minutes a day, many people avoid it, procrastinate, and make excuses. This is normal, and it is something to experience, to feel, and learn from that feeling. If it is only five minutes, and really it can’t be that bad – in fact it will probably be quite nice – then why do we avoid it? What are the feelings that we are avoiding?
It is helpful to set a timer. Then, all you have to do is be with yourself, with your body, until the timer goes off. You can sit. You can lay down. Whatever position is most comfortable to you is a good position. Once you are comfortable, relax and pay attention to the feelings of your body.
One of the best times for your five minute sanctuary practice is first thing in the morning. Just wake up, drink some water, and before doing anything else, set your timer for five minutes, get comfortable, and pay attention to how you feel physically and emotionally.
Don’t do something organized, like Yoga. You can certainly do Yoga while paying attention to your body, but in most cases, doing Yoga involves doing something to your body with your mind, and not the other way around. In most Yoga practices, you decide with your mind what you are going to do with your body, and then you do it. That is not what the sanctuary practice is. The sanctuary practice is to relax and pay attention to your body while it is in a safe environment.
Another thing you may learn is what a safe environment really is. Perhaps you have a home, and all the comforts of a modern life, and yet still it doesn’t feel like sanctuary. Why? What does it need? I cannot answer that question for you. When you ask your body, your body will tell you with a feeling. Your body will say, “I do not feel comfortable in this room because it is a mess,” and then you may find yourself cleaning up, creating sanctuary.
If you do not have a safe environment, this can be a very serious, very important thing. When you are serious about your wellbeing, and you have decided that it is important to you, then you may decide to create a safe environment for yourself. That may be a big project, a difficult thing to do. You may have to leave a dangerous, abusive situation. You may have to ask for help. It may take many steps, many years, to create sanctuary for yourself. And it will be worth the effort.
Sanctuary for Others
The goal of Middleway Method is to help people increase their capacity to be of service to others. When we take care of ourselves, then we have the energy and then attention to be able to take care of others in a new way. When you do the first sanctuary practice, and learn what it takes to set aside just five minutes a day, then it is natural to appreciate just how unsafe and uncomfortable many people’s lives are. As you progress through your Preliminary Practices, you will increase your capacity to be of service to others, and then when you help another person create sanctuary in their life, then you will be doing Life’s Work, and you will create meaning and purpose in the world.