Grief is a sacred journey

10 Ways to Create Sacred Space Every Day

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1. Silence: Begin your day with silence, even if only five minutes. Focus on this one moment when you have all the time and possibility in the world.

2. Body: Throughout the day, return to the sacred within body—in color, the sounds of nature, the taste of a peach, the smell of a flower. Bring attention to deep slow breath—in your car, at the grocery store, while waiting for a diagnosis, while waiting to hear from someone who is late. Include movement to calm agitated energy and deepen the breath. You can do yoga or tai chi or guided body relaxations—or create your own dance.

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3. Altar: Create an altar inside your home. Clean the space so it’s ready for something new—acorns or stones, flowers, beautiful fabrics, photos that inspire you. I often begin with a fresh cloth and let a new altar evolve in time. Altars in India inspired me to create my own.

4. Ritual: Create simple personal rituals every day. Light a candle. I like flames, but LED candles work, too. It’s the intention that matters. A ritual can be as simple as that short morning silence or lighting a candle for someone you love.

5. Sacred Places: Find sacred spots outdoors. In a park, in your yard, near water or a large tree. The constants in my world are my forest and Seneca Lake, but I look for sacred spaces and beauty wherever I go. It’s often a matter of noticing.

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6. Sound: Include sound that brings you peace or inspiration. Because my hearing is damaged from Meniere’s Disease, outer music is difficult for me, but I carry powerful music within from Joni Mitchell lyrics to Puccini arias to Schubert’s songs. With hearing aids, I still enjoy simple sounds of crickets, birds announcing their place in the world, and the ring of a Tibetan Singing Bowl.

7. Grounding: Bow to the four directions and then stand or sit tall and feel your body as the axis between heaven and earth. Be aware of the cycles of the season, the changing angle of the sun and the phases of the moon. These markers are noticeable even in cities.  Notice the elements of water, earth, air, and fire.

8. Sacred Words: Keep a journal. Write down dreams, reflections, troubles, and inspiring words written by others. Memorize moving words from sacred writings or poetry to say to yourself. Use a mantra you’ve been given or create your own meaningful words. I often repeat Om Mani Padme Hum or All Shall Be Well. I often return to Rilke’s poetry in difficult times.

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9. Service: Reach out to someone who needs your support. Maybe they need a call or a quart of homemade soup or a bouquet. Maybe a child or an elderly person needs a friend. When you have nothing left to give, remember to pull back and support yourself.

10. Protection: Protect your solitude and silence. Close the door. Turn off the phone and computer. Watch a sunset. (At least once in a while.)DSC07320-001

I know. The ego resists. Mine does, too. There isn’t time. Why bother? We have better things to do. And then I remember that at the end of life when I face the Great Unknown or even at the end of one ordinary day, it’s the deep inner and outer connections that will sustain and hold me.

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How do you create sacred spaces and sacred moments in your life? To read an article about creating ritual on your own, see A Personal Grief Ritual of Remembrance and Release. For a taste of poetry that has inspired me (and others, since it continues to be my most read post after many years), see Poems to Grieve By.

29 Comments
  1. Thanks for this wonderful post today, Elaine. I needed a reminder to take care of myself.

  2. Thanks, I need this reminder

  3. Thank you. Elaine. These are beautiful ways to engage the sacred within and without.

  4. Thank you for reminding me of this. These really should be daily things, especially when things get chaotic. The only thing I would add here is : acknowledge your gratitude every day. Recognize your blessings and be grateful, even in grief.

    • I agree, Robin. Gratitude is an underlying support for me and so many of us. It seems to be what makes humans happy, no matter how objectively easy or difficult their life is. I approach life with gratitude. I’m not sure when this began as a separate practice. It’s been there a long time when waking up in the morning, walking under tall trees, memories and new experiences of love, the food I grow and eat, the flowers I photograph… The list goes on and on. And yes, even gratitude for grief and the openings it brings. Even gratitude for grumpy moods that bring new information to consciousness.

  5. The Trappist monks at Gethsemani Monastery do most of these things, and perhaps all. When I was there for a week last month, I was reminded how grounded and alive I felt by following their silence. It takes time to do these things, yes. But it makes the rest of our time richer. (Your photo is also stunning.)

    • It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to spend a week with Trappist monks. I know you’ve done that before. I haven’t taken a silent retreat with others for a long time, but there is much silence in my daily life.

      I had fun creating a meme with Rilke’s words–words that supported me while Vic was dying, as I stood on the threshold between worlds while Vic crossed to the other side.

  6. Some beautiful reminders here Elaine. We should all remember to take a pause at times and remember our gratitudes. Thanks for the ideas and reminding. 🙂

  7. Elaine, this is exactly what I needed today. I am attempting to create my own Rule of Life in this Benedictine-infused place.

    Next week I’ll write about what I am coming up with and will link to this post!

    Now off to practice before I preach. 🙂

    • Wonderful, Shirley. I tend toward impatience. Paul Brunton (remember him?) took waiting for an hour for a train or waiting for anything as opportunity for dwelling in Silence. Of course, he didn’t have the agitated mind I have, but he taught me to use those times to practice and quiet my agitation. Even when driving, I can breathe, say mantra, and watch for beauty. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

  8. Good reminders. Thank you. And for the beautiful Rilke quote!

    • Thank you, Joan. The Rilke quote is from the Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy translation of ‘Sonnets to Orpheus.’ It’s the last stanza of the last sonnet. When my husband was having a stem cell transplant, I stayed with him at the hospital all day and slept at the American Cancer Society Lodge at night. After he fell asleep, I left the hospital and returned to my lonely room and my worries. I wrote this quote on a white board on the door so it would greet me when I left him and remind me of something bigger than our personal woes.

  9. Thank you for posting your thoughts in a 1-10 format, Elaine. Often philosophical/spiritual ideas tend to become amorphous; you give it a container here.

    I’m glad I tuned in later than usual. Your posts themselves are always top tier, but the comments enrich all that you work so hard to create, forming a roundtable here actually.

    It’s very quiet here in our new house. I often listen to silence. My morning ritual rarely varies: eating breakfast, reading my Bible, praying for myself and others, and writing 2-3 lines in my gratitude journal. I don’t know why I don’t sit/stand and stare at the geese in the pond behind me more often. It’s at the opposite end of the house from my writing space, so I guess I’ll have to acquire a new habit. Heaven knows it would help with the restlessness you describe and I identify with completely. (There is a surprise for you on my blog today!)

    • I don’t think of you as restless, Marian, but then we’ve never met. In your writing, I see a woman grounded in deep family and religious tradition and a solid loving marriage. Makes me feel better to know you’re a restless one, too. I’m glad you live in a place of silence. I love imagining you moving from breakfast to Bible to prayer to gratitude. That’s one powerful morning ritual. I can imagine adding a little walk to the other end of the house for a look at the pond. I’m sure you’ll find a way to include that beauty, too.

      I saw your new post (was that just this morning?) with Fannie Martin Longenecker and her edible love. I smiled at the wonderful name that tells a whole story in itself. My Grandma Edna Ziola Munderbach Ware made edible love, too. As always, I look forward to reading your words–and on top of that, a surprise awaits me!

  10. An after- thought: I do have a mound of apples, peaches and a pear on my coffee table – a heap of gratitude which would count as an altar of sorts.

    • That’s an altar to me–nature’s beauty and bounty mixed with our gratitude and admiring eye. As you well know, it’s all in the attention.

  11. So beautiful Elaine thank you. A reminder to keep eyes open and to note the beauty all around. And the value of ritual at the start of the day. Attention is the deepest form of gratitude or as someone said – I’m paraphrasing – attention is the most generous gift one can give.

    • I agree about the gift of attention, Susan. The greatest gift we can give to others and the greatest gift we can give to ourselves, particularly the parts of ourselves we often push away or neglect. As I’ve said a few times in these comments, I’m reminding myself, too.

  12. So beautiful and peaceful, Elaine, which reflects your spirit. I, too, treasure silence, movement, altars, (I have one in my dining room, one in my living room and one in my bedroom) and music. Your reminder was super important today as great changes loom in my life. Thank you, thank you. Many blessings, as always.

    • Thank you, Therese. It reflects my spirit–but not always my ego position. So I need to be surrounded by reminders. I miss music but there isn’t a thing I can do about it except remember the music in my heart. I hope the coming big changes aren’t difficult ones, but change is often challenging. Wishing you blessings and love.

  13. This is wonderful, Elaine! Brava. Your master of the art of listening to and taking care of yourself is very inspiring. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Jeanie. Writing about this put more juice in my small daily practices. Like everyone, I have to remind myself, create an intention, and remember what makes my life meaningful.

  14. I’ve been coming across many beautiful posts today about self care and giving myself space…a sure sign it’s something I really need. Thanks for this lovely one.

    • Becca, I wrote this a while back, but needed to remind myself today. I shared it after reading it. It’s too easy to become frantic and think I don’t have time, but if I don’t care for my inner life, I won’t have anything to offer anyone, including myself. Thank you for reading and taking time to share encouraging words.

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