Animals have dens, birds create nests, babies long to be held and cradled. We all need a little house of our own, a place both physical and mental where we find comfort, safety, and become reacquainted with ourselves. Small children intuitively know this, as they build forts, drape blankets over couches, and seek out quiet places in nature to be alone.
Sanctuary is especially crucial for caregivers, parents, and those in helping professions, whose energy is usually directed outwards, to others. And it’s often what feels hardest to find, or hardest to make time for.
Without this sanctuary, we feel deflated, resentful, and haggard, with a chronic undertow that something’s missing in our lives. Or we may simply feel irritable and out of sorts – especially if we’re highly sensitive.
If were deprived of this refuge, we look to inferior substitutes like food to fill the void that a sense of sanctuary can provide. We may unconsciously create sanctuary with extra padding (weight) and other forms of emotional armor: distancing, judging, blaming, and more.
The body knows when it needs rest. It will employ whatever method it needs to claim it. I remember when a good friend, struggling with the challenging task of caring for three children under 4, said to me, Im so tired I could check myself into a hospital, just to get some sleep. Illness may feel like our only “legitimate” excuse to rest, as if we need a permission slip to do so.
In my own life, I’ve noticed that I crave food when I feel overwhelmed (“I can’t handle this”), overstimulated, or fatigued from too much “running” (running errands, running from one task to the next without a break.) The worst offender for me is multi tasking – especially on the computer – as it leads to overwhelm in my body every single time. (Interestingly enough, recent brain research shows that multi tasking puts the brain in fight or flight.)
When I rush, run, and multi-task, on a deep, somatic, bodily level, I feel like a neglected child. It hits something primal and deep in me, and I feel completely lost, like a baby bird that’s been kicked out of its nest, left to fend for itself. My instinct is to comfort these neglected parts with food. No amount of compassion will soften the cravings, for what they really need is a wise response – to slow down, to rest, to find sanctuary.
It’s like the food cravings are saying, “You will listen to me, my love….” and they force me to slow down and rest.
Dear one, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, or simply inside out, I invite you to find sanctuary and rest. Take heart – literally. Take your precious heart into your hands and nourish it fully with quiet, silence, and your own presence.
Close your eyes. Take a nap. Take a yoga class. Go on a walk. Eat a leisurely lunch. The voice that says there’s no time to rest – question it. Natalie Goldberg put it this way: “Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.”
There is wisdom in rest, darkness; sanctuary. In this hibernation, we set down new roots, readying ourselves for the next step. How can you create a sanctuary, a nest, a place of restoration in your life? How can you nourish yourself with true refuge so that the desire for food as refuge can soften, fade, and dissolve?