It helps to know what we are after, what we are about, what we intend. For instance, where photography is concerned, I am more interested in pleasing the eye, in calming, restoring, the soul, than with taking a picture that is a completely accurate rendition, or representation, of some aspect of the “real world.” I am about making pleasing, calming, renewing, restoring images—images that assist us in the art of living well. I mean for each image to be a sanctuary of sorts, which provides breathing room between ourselves and our lives, and allows us to shift a bit in the saddle, regain a sense of perspective, and ride on.
As we think about ourselves in this place and our point, our purpose, in coming together—as we wonder what we mean, what we desire—as we ask “What business are we in here? What are we about?”—as we stand before our future and craft our intention regarding what that future will be—I can think of no better term for all of that than “sanctuary.” No soul can survive with out sanctuary in the world of space and time.
Life is abusive. Our lives, at best, are sources of low grade, yet, cumulative, posttraumatic stress disorder. We need a sanctuary. A place of retreat and restoration, regeneration, renewal and recovery. A “hospital of the spirit,” so to speak, where we can heal and be well. But, sanctuary doesn’t just happen. It is an intentional creation by and of the people who gather as sanctuary. Just as it is the people who are the church, it is the people who are the sanctuary. We generate sanctuary by the quality of our being together. We foster sanctuary by the way we receive and treat one another, particularly in the absence of the other. How you treat me when I am not with you is the simple key in determining whether you are a sanctuary for me and whether I will be healed through my association with you.
Kindness and compassion, grace, mercy and peace are healing agents, balm for our wounded-ness. We need the right kind of lap. We are only the right kind of lap away from being able to handle our lives. We need gentle, caring presence. We need loving laughter.
We think that explanation will make our pain disappear. If we only understood, then it would be okay. But, after we know why things are the way they are, we still have to deal with it, with life as it is. The best reason in all the world will not erase our pain. “Reason cannot uproot what reason didn’t plant.” Pain is impervious to the power of logic. Knowing what happened and why will not ameliorate the impact of what happened. But, the right kind of lap will. Sanctuary restores our souls.
Once we see all there is to see, we have to make our peace with it. Making our peace with it doesn’t mean leaving things as they are. It means doing what we can to make things like they ought to be, and letting what we can do be what we can do.
What can we do about poverty, for instance, or racism? What can be done about those things? Smart people have been trying to imagine solutions for years, yet, poverty and racism continue to abound. We have to make our peace with the work to end poverty and racism with no real strategy in mind or turning point in sight. The work goes on, and the work requires our dedication to the task, without payoff or reward. A good bit of life is like that.
Sanctuary offers no false promises or empty encouragement, but exists for us as a solid source of hope in our lives. Hope is not optimistic. Sanctuary is where we gather to know how things are and see what must be done, where we regroup, recover, and rededicate ourselves to the work that is before us, without regard for impact or outcome. Grounded in sanctuary, our lives have a source of vitality that has nothing to do with the results of our living.
We come here out of life situations that are beyond remedy. There is no solution for any of the real problems that beset us. We have worries and concerns for which there is no fix. On a global scale, the world is running out of oil and terrorism is not going away. On a personal level, we have health issues, and mood swings, and family problems that laugh at everything we throw at them. We cannot get away from the stuff we don’t like about our lives, about life. But, we can come here.
Coming here provides us with a practical perspective. No one here has it made. Everyone here deals with incorrigible realities. Some of us do that with greater aplomb and style and skill than others of us, but none of us escapes the work of having to deal with what we don’t like and can’t do anything about. What we can do about the things we can’t do anything about is make our peace with doing what we can and letting that be that. We gather here to find what it takes to pick ourselves up and go on with our lives. One of the things it takes is knowing how important we are to the rest of us. When we get to the point of being unable, or unwilling, to go on with our lives, we think the world would be better off without us, and that we would be better off without the world. That is the depressive fallacy. Sanctuary exists, in part, to ward off the depressive fallacy.
Look. It’s like this: We are all crucial to the experience and expression—to the creation and cultivation—of Optimal Mind. Optimal Mind is exactly what we need to do what must be done. Optimal mind is group-think, or mob mentality, at its best. It is the product of our coming together in the service of the best we can imagine, of our commitment to living together in ways that serve a good beyond our own personal good, in ways that take the good of an increasingly wide circle of our neighbors into account.
Optimal Mind is created by the mutual impact and influence of one another in the service of the good we recognize as good. We produce a we-ness by virtue of our participation in the collective way of thinking and doing and being. This is the culture, or the mind, or the soul of the group. When we belong only to one tightly knit group, a family, or clan, or tribe, the group mind is the controlling force directing the thinking of the individuals within the group. As the culture grows and differentiates, we have membership in a number of groups, and think of ourselves as separate individuals with our own personal minds. We need to re-think the concepts of “self” and “mind,” and understand that who we are is more a function of the groups we belong to than of the idea of “the rugged individualist” we would like to be. We are more of a “we” than an “I” or a “me.” Because of that, it is crucial that we focus on being the right kind of “we.”
We participate in our own becoming by creating the right kind of “we.” Optimal mind is a self-reflective loop of awareness and values and action produced by those who intentionally come together to be more than they could ever be alone. It begins with sanctuary.
We come here in a mental state that is bruised and battered and wrung out and exhausted. We are psychically spent. At the end of our emotional ropes. We don’t have what it takes to do our lives alone. We cannot find the way forward and see no reason to go on. But we come here, don’t you see, because there is more to us than meets the eye—because there is more to IT, to life, and living, and being alive than meets the eye. And, something knows that. And, brings us here, hoping that we will find what we need to get up and do what must be done. Hoping that we will find hope.
Optimal Mind is hope at its best. Hope is not optimistic, remember. Optimism is a cheap imitation of hope, a manikin put together with duct tape and super glue and hawked as Elle MacPherson or Cindy Crawford, or a inflatable man that you invited to think of as George Clooney or Antonio Banderas. Hope, on the other hand, is grounded solidly in the realization of the way things are (and also are). Hope doesn’t care what its chances are. Hope sees what needs to be done and does it, in season and out of season, around the clock, in all weather conditions, no matter what, whether it feels like it or not, whether its in the mood for it or not, whether it wants to or not. If we can hope like that, we have it made, and the world will be saved through us.
Sanctuary is the source of this kind of hope. Sanctuary is a quality of mind that might be called “mindfulness,” or “awareness.” Sanctuary is a presence that sees into the heart of things, understands what’s what, knows how things are and how things also are, and lets things be as they are for as long as it takes for them to change into what they ought to be. Sanctuary doesn’t hurry anything, doesn’t push, or force, or compel, but it transforms everything simply by calling attention to things and allowing things to be known for what they are, and also are.
There are a number of foundational realizations at the heart of sanctuary. These are called “the ten thousand spiritual laws.” Two of them are: We can see and hear only what we are capable of seeing and hearing, only what our life experience has prepared us to see and hear. Once we see or hear we cannot unsee or unhear what we have seen or heard. Seeing and hearing (eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand) are the evolutionary tools of soul which transform the world. Sanctuary fosters the perspective that changes the world.
It is our work together to create the kind of perspective, the kind of sanctuary that saves lives, restores souls, cultivates Optimal Mind, and reforms the world. We are not here to believe a certain way, or think a certain way, or even to act a certain way. We are here to see, and hear, and understand, and to allow our living to flow from our seeing, and hearing, and understanding. Amen! May it be so!