Camping Under Stars
(photo by Nate Bolt/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

The sanctity of a location is often said to be derived from its history. For some, the sacred space may be the site at which a loved one transitioned from one plane of existence to another; for others, the locale might have been the silent witness to an exceptional, life-changing event. However, for many of us, our hallowed home radiates a certain indescribable aura, a force that seems to draw in its disciples, offering refuge from the turmoil of everyday life.

The space may not even exist in a tangible respect. It may reveal itself only within the mind of the individual seeking shelter from the raging pandemonium that keeps the “real world” in constant disarray. Wherever it manifests, the discovery of such a sanctuary can be critical to the sustenance of one’s sanity in the midst of pain or suffering. As humans collectively are forced to grapple with increasingly chaotic and tumultuous circumstances, cultivating a tranquil sanctuary within is the first step to creating peace throughout the world.

For a significant period of my life, I considered myself a sort of spiritual nomad. I maintained a calm and composed exterior, but inside I was secretly a wandering traveler searching for a place to rest my tired heart. As I speak with others, I’m finding that I am not alone in this circumstance.

Dizzy with the zealous declarations of partisan faiths, we spiritual nomads are the wanderers — we long to find fulfillment and meaning in something “greater,” yet we acquire only temporary, artificial morsels of nourishment in the empty promises of dogmatic traditions. For some of us, hiding behind false idols in the house of science can pacify the intensity of our longing momentarily, but the beast always reemerges and demands more to fill the void.

For years I played this agonizing game, bouncing from elation to despair, caught in a cycle perpetuated by a need for solid ground beneath my feet. I wanted no less than the ability to turn my emotions on and off — to delegate my tears, laughter, and moments of sublimation. When I found that no denomination, spiritual guru, or uncompromising atheistic declaration could guarantee such a capacity, I decided to instead hide from sentiment altogether. I was willing to sacrifice joy, intimacy, and the very soul of life as long as I didn’t have to risk being vulnerable in a cruel and uncertain world.

At some point, the wanderer must realize that pursuing immunity from suffering ultimately leads right back to the despondency with which (s)he was confronted to begin with. In my own experience, it was only when I was finally able to admit and accept my own powerlessness that tranquility materialized. I finally broke open, split at the seams by my despair. In that moment, surrendering to my own powerlessness revealed a truth that had been previously obscured by the lens of my desire.

I looked up into the night sky — no longer searching, but just absorbing — and the brilliant beam of a single star peering through dense fog imbibed hope into my bitter darkness. A voice resonated deep within me, and I heard — not with my ears, but rather with some thought-to-be vestigial organ within my soul — exactly the message I was supposed to hear at that moment.

“It is only on the darkest nights that you begin to see the stars.”

The night acquired new meaning for me that evening. I can no longer venture out after the sun has set without taking several moments to gaze up at the stars and just marvel at them. Those effervescent beacons of light have become my idols, the night my sacred space. This experience — of acquiring a sacred place of my own — has helped me to better understand the reverence the Benedictine monk feels within the walls of a cathedral and why the Israeli and Palestinian peoples fight so bitterly over what they each deem to be their holy lands.

What I think is often forgotten, unfortunately, is that our sacred places are only concrete representations of our experience of love, God, divinity (or what ever word you use to name it). They are the grounds upon which we project the light that emanates from within, and when we forget that all-important truth we are once again forced into nomadic wandering. When we shed blood in a war over futile possession or limit our experience of divinity to a single location, we render it hollow and effectively desecrate its holiness. The sacred place exists not to introduce us to some higher power outside of our own experience; rather, it serves as a reminder of the splendor we kindle within.

True sacred spaces are not entrenched and immovable in the physical locations they occupy. Holy sites manifest themselves in manifold forms, consistently available in our moments of greatest need. As I mature, I’m learning to cultivate these sacred places within my own mind — to leave the logical, practical, relentlessly anxious intellect and find peace in the silence of quiet meditation and the gentle flow of my yoga practice. This spiritual nomad has finally found her sacred abode.


Chelsea RoffMs. Roff is studying Psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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24Reflections

Reflections

consistently available in our moments of greatest need-wow how great thou art.great story,i myself have often felt like a Spiritual Nomad . THANK YOU - _- DAVE

lovely essay

Chelsea - what you have written resonates with the current state of my soul. Yesterday, I had a "dark night" and needed to be able to see those stars breaking forth! I find that the best "sacred spaces" are the ones that we are not expecting or planning. I often find silent retreats or even attending religious services lacking sacred space, but the occasional walk, sunset, even a quiet moment in the car can lead to a sacred time. I would call it getting connected to the "sacred rhythms of life" - I believe they flow all around us, but often we are too preoccupied and miss the moment. From one spiritual nomad to another - thank you!

So true, Bob. For me personally, I've found the greatest degree of peace and tranquility in the simple, yet immensely powerful rhythm of my breath. I think that the act of tuning into one's own breathing is one of the most often ignored, easily accessible sources of wisdom in life. It is probably no coincidence that many a contemplative traditions have developed practices highly organized around bringing attention to the breath-- yoga, meditation, tai chi, etc.

It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my nomadic wanderings. Thank you for your kind words, and I hope that beacon of hope shines some light into the dark night you speak of soon. Much love.

We are all on a journey. It is good to know we have fellow travelers (nomads) who support, strengthen, and challenge us. It reminds me of the Hebrew people in the days of Abraham and Moses. They too were a nomadic people, who found themselves wandering in the desert. We may sometimes be lost, seeking peace and tranquility, wandering aimlessly, but one hope is we have community and strength in each other. Grace and peace.

The sacred space is that quiet space within you. The physical space is more of a landmark, whether it be a star or a piece of jewelry.

I half to say your article nicely done and It has a nice poetic yet philosophical blend to it. I too find the greatest peace and relaxation during my yoga practice. Sheryl’s calm and positive demeanor makes for a great combination at Soulshine yoga. I am grateful to have shared time and space with you and everyone else, no matter how brief, just to create a sacred space.

I half to say your article nicely done and It has a nice poetic yet philosophical blend to it. I too find the greatest peace and relaxation during my yoga practice. Sheryl’s calm and positive demeanor makes for a great combination at Soulshine yoga. I am grateful to have shared time and space with you and everyone else, no matter how brief, just to create a sacred space.

You made me think of a favorite passage of mine from the Bible. The versions vary depending upon the Bible you happen to have at hand, casting a slightly different light on the thought, but they all basically reflect a common sentiment. My favorite version is probably the one I was initially introduced to, in the King James Bible:

1 Chronicles 29:15

"For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding."

It's a recognition of our status as temporary beings, emphasizing the importance of that recognition. I've felt a sojourner all my life.

What a beautiful passage, Scott. I don't think anyone has ever brought my attention to that specific verse before; I just added a bookmark in my own bible! Thank you for sharing.

"True sacred spaces are not entrenched and immovable in the physical locations they occupy. Holy sites manifest themselves in manifold forms, consistently available in our moments of greatest need."

Could it be that both are true?

Sacred space for me occurs throughout my day, when I am present in that moment: the bee rolling around in the center of a sunlit flower I walk by, the moonlit night while lying on the desert floor, the laughter of my friend, the sound of the first birds in the morning, or the crushing hug of my teenage son that lingers. These moments keep me in the presence of God many times a day.

I like that you had your inner voice come to you to deliver the message it did. Also, I feel like we all who have found a calling, yet struggle to find consistent peace, well, that is just part of the growth down our spiritual path! Yet it is great that you found the ability to just absorb sometimes too, instead of yearning all the time. It ebbs and flows, but it is nice to hit a plane of just an awareness to help you grow even more...

Not all wandering souls are lost.

By the grace of God, 35 years ago I found daily sobriety, and thus a life, through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was struck deeply by your essay that carries in its message so much of what I learned there, and what keeps me sober today, especially in the thought: "it was only when I was finally able to admit and accept my own powerlessness that tranquility materialized." Thank you.

Aren't we all spiritual nomads? Our restless spirit is a blessing as well as a curse. It's a blessing to grow--hence, we are improving, discovering, and creating all the time! At the same time, we are cursed to be angst-ridden, restless, and never to be satisfied. Psalmist and saints, great poets and artists, scientist and industrialists, politicians and athletes are driven by the same restlessness. St. Augustine stated it best in spiritual terms: Our hearts are restless, oh Lord, until they rest in Thee!

Aren't we all spiritual nomads? Our restless spirit is a blessing as well as a curse. It's a blessing to grow--hence, we are improving, discovering, and creating all the time! At the same time, we are cursed to be angst-ridden, restless, and never to be satisfied. Psalmist and saints, great poets and artists, scientist and industrialists, politicians and athletes are driven by the same restlessness. St. Augustine stated it best in spiritual terms: Our hearts are restless, oh Lord, until they rest in Thee!

beautiful reflection to share with us all, warmest wishes to you!

Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I wish you all the best on your journey through life.

Hi I live in south Dublin(Ireland),every morning I walk for an hour close to the sea.I stop for a few minutes at the same spot overlooking Killiney bay.This is my sacred space before I start to engage with the rest of the world,it allows my unconscious mind time to connect with all that surrounds me.I found your writing expressed your experience of connection in a very simple and honest way.I am looking forward to your next observation,and thanks for sharing it with us.
Kind Regards
Nicholas

After years of trying to accept the confines of dogmatic belief, I left myself in the hands of a spiritual teacher who taught me to let go of these preconceived notions that prevent us from losing ourselves - and finding ourselves - in the wonder of Divine. I share in the journey with you.

I'd like to share a short description about finding a sacred space in an unlikely place. In March I worked as a volunteer at a field hospital on the grounds of the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. More than 100 volunteer doctors and nurses were working in a 130-bed hospital in tents. It was intense and sometimes heartbreaking. One of the physical therapists who is also a yoga instructor held yoga classes on a large plastic sheet laid out on the field beside the large tent where volunteers slept. On the last night I was there about 15 people formed a circle and practiced yoga together. It was amazing to find that it was possible to concentrate and relax and find peace in that moment even though a very bright security light was beaming down on us and planes were landing 200 yards away.

Chelsea, Your essay was wise and beautiful. It reminded me of something Wendell Berry, a favorite poet of mine, wrote:
"To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."
So many poets (Whitman, Stevens, Frost, +) have embraced the night. My you, may we all find beauty and song and and joy in the edges of the night.

Bravo.
Thank you for using apt words to capture the deep feelings and drawings of the spirit.