Creating a Sanctuary for the Soul

By Dianne Valla and David Rioux

Since religious man cannot live except in an atmosphere impregnated with the sacred, we must expect to find a large number of techniques for consecrating space

—Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane

Our souls hurt. They hurt in a dozen different ways. We are fed up, bored, despairing, depressed, angry. When our souls hurt enough, we become seriously ill. Whatever the medical diagnosis, the real sickness is a lack of wholeness.


Our left-brained society, with its almost total emphasis on processes involving fact and logic, robs us of a part of ourselves that we need to be completely human. What we lack is an intuitive state of being, a metaphoric way of experiencing a reality that is not grounded in space or time or matter. What we need is an inner life. More than that, we need a way of connecting that inner life to the rest of our being.

participating in rituals, we experience the reality of another dimension. Rituals are ways of bringing the inner life of spirit into the world of space and time. Through mindful participation in meaningful ritual, we learn to live spiritually. We are healed of the illness of separation from ourselves.

Healing rituals uplift the quality of the ground of our being in the same way that working a garden upgrades the soil. A garden is nurtured by gardening; the life of the spirit is nurtured through dedication to ritual. Our disordered souls are healed and made ready for growth. The most profound wounds of a hostile environment and of interpersonal injury can be transformed by consistently and intentionally enacting rituals for healing.

Soul Sanctuary: A Ritual of Healing

Creating a soul sanctuary, aside from having great healing properties of its own, can become a jumping-off place for many other rituals. Almost all rituals are initiated in personal sanctuary space. From that place, other symbolic ritual actions can continue in an environment that already has a feeling of the sacred.

Creating a sanctuary for the soul is a simple task, filled with delight. Sanctuaries can be actual places or places that are real only in the imagination. Perhaps we need to have both kinds. An imagined sanctuary can never be closed due to weather or for repairs or for lack of financial support. The important aspect is that we each select our own special place, whether it be the seaside, a forest, a mountaintop, a view of running water or a waterfall, a special garden, or a sacred power spot.

The only requirement for sanctuary space is that we select a place where we have felt our highest level of peacefulness. The main ingredient is the great inner warmth, security, and peace that we feel in this place. The more often we revisit our soul sanctuary, the more peaceful we will be. Even troubled persons, those with seriously dysfunctional childhoods and memories of no peaceful place at all, have been able to imagine a place where they might feel safe and at peace.

Despite the real simplicity of creating personal sanctuary space, we have discovered that the task can be mind-boggling. For some people it might take time to be able to overcome built-in inertia. What seems to have worked well in healing and growth workshops we have done has been for us to lend our private sanctuaries to others. We'll do the same here. Feel free to borrow one or the other, whichever appeals to you. Use it until you create one of your own, or use it permanently if you choose. There is no rent or copyright on imagined soul sanctuaries.

Dianne's Sanctuary

I have a special place I go when I need to get away from it all. It isn't a real place, but sometimes it is more real to me than any actual location could ever be. I call it the Lighthouse.

I walk along a path of very old, very worn stone slates set into grass. As I walk, I hear my footsteps on the path. At the end of the path is a set of steps leading up to the door of a round turret. I walk up the steps, not even needing to hold the handrail that is there for me should I want to use it. I arrive at the door, a door with a special key that only I possess. From a gold chain on my neck I lift the key to the latch. I can hear the click as the lock turns. I enter, being sure to lock the door behind me. In front of me is a narrow winding staircase that leads to the top floor of the Lighthouse.

Another door leads me to the room itself, my sanctuary room. It is a circular room with windows all around. All the windows are open and the sheer white curtains are blowing slightly in the gentle breeze. I move across the room to sit in the only chair in the room. It is soft, yet it supports my fragile back. I fold my feet under my body and rest in the comfort of the moment. I notice that the room smells fresh and clean. There is even a trace of sandalwood scent as if long ago incense had been burned to honor an ancient deity.

It is so quiet in this room that I can hear, in the distance, the sound of the ocean. It is a calm ocean today. I smell its salt now, and I know that the ocean was once my home. In this room, I know without any doubt that all is well and right and holy. I close my eyes and enter a deep meditation. The world and its cares are gone for me. All there is, is peace.

When I am refreshed, I leave, going back the same way I came. I am careful to lock the door so that nothing can disturb my sanctuary while I am away. I know that I can return again and again and that I will always find what I need here.

David's Sanctuary

There is a special place I go within myself to transcend the pains of the outer world, to seek resolution of a problem, to make ready to receive the answer to a question, to find peace. I call this spot my Hidden Cove.

To begin this inward trip, I sit in a comfortable chair, close my eyes, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Then I'm alone, close to the edge of a great cliff, becoming both an observer and a participant in an interior ritual. The whole scene is lit by the soothing ethereal light of the rising sun. I walk to the very edge of the cliff, where I find a stairway cut into the face of the rock. The black basalt feels smooth under my feet, yet it is not slippery. I see my feet starting slowly down the stairs. Slightly warmed by the early sunlight, the volcanic rock caresses my feet as I descend to a hidden cove along the ocean. With each step down, I feel more and more relaxed.

When I reach the beach, I'm totally relaxed, basking in a pleasant altered state of consciousness. I feel a pleasant, moist breeze blowing from the water across my skin. As I walk onto the beach, the sand feels slightly cool under my feet. There is still a slight chill to the early morning air. I look up to see the dulled dawn sun lighting the sky and coloring the waves a soft golden white. Framed by this splendid backdrop is a campfire burning in the middle of the secluded little beach. Driftwood logs surround the fire. There are a few figures sitting on logs, seemingly huddled around the fire for warmth. I walk purposefully up the beach toward the campfire and sit down on one of the smooth, worn logs. I'm facing both the fire and the ocean.

Directly to my right, on another log, I see my Inner Guide. In a heart–to–heart silent contact, I ask my Guide for the help I need. I sense strong energy vibrations flowing from my Guide to me. Though the other figures—spirit helpers—sit quietly on their logs, I know that they will be available to me when I need them.

A sudden rush of energy from my Guide causes me to look upward. Written across the sky is the answer to the problem I brought with me to this place. I am filled with gratitude; tears wet my eyes. Slowly dropping my eyelids, I let a deep well of thankfulness flow toward my Guide. Then I gaze out at the ocean. After a few minutes, which could be centuries for all I know, I feel totally energized and completely peaceful. I get up slowly, and calmly retrace my path back to the top of the cliff. When I open my eyes, I find I have returned to everyday life fortified with the gift of an answer to my prayer and a state of great peace.

Sanctuaries as Sacred Places

Notice that there are some striking similarities in the two soul sanctuaries. Both have elements that are old and worn. Both are near water, near the ocean in fact. Both are places where one goes to be away from the cares of the world and to find what is deeply desired. Both accounts are rich in sensory images: sight, sound, feel, and even smell.

There are differences, however. You must have noticed that, while one of us remains outdoors, the other goes into a building. One admits other beings into his soul sanctuary; the other takes every precaution to make sure she will be in complete solitude. Both sanctuaries meet the particular needs of the person who created them. Both can be changed any time to fit particular circumstances and needs. What is important is what works.

We each enact our own myth. We each set up a soul sanctuary that brings us peace. As Joseph Campbell says in The Power of Myth:

This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You need a room, or a certain hour or so in a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don't know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Where will you build your place of healing and peace and sanctuary for your soul?

Dianne Valla and David Rioux have been a team for more than twenty years. Both come from a background of teaching and have been practicing psychologists. At present, they are writing a novel about the rise of spiritual consciousness and a book of meditations on poetry.

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