Reflections on Sacred Space

February 5, 2012

Chapel of The Holy Cross - Sedona

Recently I commenced a new training program with my teacher Atum O’Kane called Archetypal Dimensions of Spiritual Guidance. The first program was titled, The Keeper of the Sacred Space. The concept of Sacred Space is a curious one. Does it reflect a space or an experience or likely a combination of both? Is every space sacred and is the difference what we bring to it? The possibilities seem endless: religious sites, music, relationships, natural beauty, a storm, the ocean; I have at times found the Sacred in each one. A recent list I recorded in my Soul Journal included: Notre Dame Cathedral, St. Peters in Rome, Chapel of the Holy Cross near Sedona, the chapel in the forest near Twin Lakes at Mammoth, the beach near Yachats in Oregon, Tuolumne Grove of giant cedars in Yosemite, the Sanctuary at Hollyhock – the list could go on but these are all places where I have had some form of mystical connection.

My experience suggests we can both encounter and create sacred space. I like the idea that Sacred Space is an encounter with the numinous or spirit. It is as though an “other” enters the space. When we create it we fashion the conditions in which the numinous or spirit can be evoked. In Sacred Space there is normally a sense of the “other” which is to some extent indefinable. Sometimes the catalyst is the space itself. Recently in Erfurt, Germany I encountered this sense of Sacred Space in two churches; one where Martin Luther used to preach and the other where Meister Eckhart taught. It is interesting to reflect on the common aspects of this experience as well as the differences. I was common to both of them and I introduced a contemplative perspective as I sat to meditate. Each building had a history, a gravitas; both places had been used for sacred ritual for over 1,000 years and had celebrated the energy and insight of two of the most remarkable teachers in Christendom. Both buildings had suffered war damage and been beautifully restored to their traditional form. They were the only two churches of the five that I visited that created such a distinct energetic impression of the sacred. Now at this juncture one could assume that it was my knowledge of the great men who had preceded me that created my experience yet I only knew of Martin Luther’s personal involvement with the building. I only found out about Meister Eckhart’s relationship with the Preidiger Kirke sometime afterwards. This perhaps leads me to the revelation that Sacred Space will always contain something of the mystery about it.

Sometimes we may feel a special energetic connection with a place without really knowing why. Recently I encountered a sense of Sacred Space totally unexpectedly in a place where I have walked many times before. I was taking my daily promenade around the beautiful seawall in Kitsilano. I began at Granville Island and then intended to stroll around Vanier Park to Kits beach. I had not prepared for foul weather and as I observed a storm moving in off the ocean, I wondered about making a dash for home. Yet for some reason I decided to embrace the storm and walked defiantly into the strong west wind and driving rain. I decided to do the Navajo Beauty meditation. ‘I walk with beauty before me, I walk with beauty behind me, I walk with beauty all around me” and suddenly I was in the grip of ecstasy. I found myself in that strange mystical state where tears and laughter magically intertwine. As I got wetter and more wind-dragged, I laughed with a sense of pure joy and began to sing

I have also observed that engaging with someone on a deep, level can transform the space whether that space is a store, a taxi or a doorstep. I sense this starts with a sense of “meeting” in a meaningful way; I liken it to a soul connection. What causes two souls to open in this way is part of the mystery but the result is a sense of Sacred Space. For example recently I was at a party, an unfamiliar event as I avoid them like the plague, but my new neighbours were having an open house and it seemed the friendly thing to do. As an introvert I can handle intense social stimulus for only a limited time, so I am always one of the first to leave. As we share a landing, it was a short trip home but en route I encountered a young man standing outside my door. He greeted me and we began to converse about the need of the introvert to recharge their batteries. Realizing we were both introverts led to an engagement and a dialogue around how introverts derive their energy from the inner world and that this time of conversation actually helped the batteries recharge; it seems to me that in that moment we had entered Sacred Space.

In my practice as a spiritual coach I have learned the importance of creating Sacred Space to provide a container for the work that I do both with individuals and in groups. There are two steps in creating the Sacred Space and two in closing it. Creating it involves preparation and attunement. Preparation involves grounding myself, clearing my energy, and bringing attention to my heart then the lighting of a candle. Attunement, which means bringing into harmony, takes place after the session has commenced. It is orchestrated through a guided meditation/bodyscan and concludes with the recital of a poem. (The poem will reflect some aspect of the soul journey.) Closing sacred space involves a simple ritual with the client using a guided gratitude meditation and a reading (I always use Julia Cameron’s Blessings) Once the client has left I extinguish the candle, re ground myself, shake off the energy with a simple affirmation letting go of any that is not mine. “I release what is not mine to hold”

Encountering or creating Sacred Space requires our presence; the mystery is whether the space is sacred without us; would an atheist find the essence of the sacred in the same way? Perhaps the soul needs to be in an awakened state. I think the words of Hafiz are an appropriate way to close, “What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts? It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up.”